Every March, the Chicago River is dyed green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but right now it is the water quality, no its color, that is getting attention.
The Chicago River’s sanitation standards were not designed to allow swimmers. But people do enter the water for recreation so last year the EPA ordered the city to change those standards and last month the state put some green into the river. Not the dye, but $10 million.
But is it changing people’s impressions of the water?
In response to the EPA regulations, Chicago is adopting new water standards, which will make the river cleaner than ever before. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District says the water was never toxic, it just was not meant for people to swim in it.
“We understood people aren't getting sick that are canoeing today. Today the treatment plants still discharge undisenfected wastewater to the receiving streams,” said Catherine O’Connor from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
The water district plans to add disinfecting technology at two treatments plants. O’Connor says the project will cost more than $100 million. Governor Quinn gave $10 million to get the clean up started.
“He wanted the state to support this,” said O’Connor. “That they support any improvement to the Chicago area waterway.”
A cleaner river would not just mean a scenic backdrop for the city, it will also mean increased small business and increased recreation.
“We are excited for any injection into the system that could make the water cleaner. It's really as simple as that,” said Don Abrams.
Abrams is the general manager of Wateriders, a kayak rental company on the Chicago River. He says some of his customers have complained about the dirty river water.
“I have a negative Yelp up there right now about someone who just didn't like the condition of the river and it had nothing to do with the business or what we do,” said Abrams.
He says once the project is underway and other improvements are made, he expects more people to try their hand at Kayaking.
He said, “Once the river gets cleaned up we feel like absolutely more people will come out. They'll be less concerned with it.”
The water district was quick to tell me that this project would only disinfect the water. That means the river will actually be cleaner, but it won’t look any different.
The project will be finished by March 2016.