Unfortunately, I was not able to go on the ten day trip down the Mississippi with the rest of the class and Liz, but I hear it was an amazing experience. Even though I didn’t make it on the trip, I am no stranger to canoe camping. I grew up in Northern Minnesota and have spent a lot of time camping in both the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park.
One thing that really interests me about your trip is the quality of the water you are paddling through. Growing up camping in Minnesota I was spoiled with incredible clean lake water. You can drink from most of the lakes in the BWCAW, so I can not imagine what it would be like to canoe through a river where you cannot drink from, swim in, or even touch the water. I was shocked to see the picture you posted of the sign cautioning against any human body contact with the water, and it made me curious about the river’s history.The city of Chicago has an interesting story when it comes to their wastewater management.
Located near the intersection of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, the city has historically used the lake for both drinking water and waste-water disposal. In 1852 Chicago installed a combined storm-water runoff and sewage system underneath the densely populated areas of the city.
This became a major health concern when the pollution from the waste water reached the water supply intake point in Lake Michigan. In order to solve this problem the city of Chicago considered reversing the direction of the Chicago River, so instead of flowing into Lake Michigan the river flowed into the Illinois River, and eventually into the Mississippi. Construction began in 1865, and by 1871 the flow of the river was formally reversed. The reversal of the river greatly benefited Chicago by significantly decreasing the deaths due to Typhoid and other water-borne illnesses. But while the residents of Chicago benefited, the residents living in the Illinois River basin paid the costs. Eventually, this issue was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court by the state of Missouri in 1900, but they were unsuccessful in stopping the discharging of water into the Illinois River.
In the 1920s Chicago transitioned from an open-sewer system to a waster water treatment system with the construction of four major sewage treatment plants. As new treatment plants were built to accommodate a growing population, Chicago quickly became the home of the largest waste water treatment facility in the world. Despite these treatment facilities, the Chicago River is still considered one of the most threatened waterways in the country, with approximately 1.2 billion gallons of partially treated wastewater being dumped into the river every day. This is because the treatment plants do not use a disinfecting technique that is used by other major cities in the U.S.. Most treatment plants use two basic stages when treating wastewater. In the first stage of treatment solids are allowed settle and are then filtered out of the water. In the second stage of treatment biological processes are used to further disinfect and purify the water. This second stage is very important because it removes bacteria and other organisms that carry water-borne illnesses. Although the EPA has pushed for a cleanup of the Chicago River, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is doubtful that the cleanup efforts will be worth the costs (roughly 427 million dollars).