I’m confused. How can the Chicago River flow backwards right now? And how in the world can they reverse its flow?



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    By the 1870s the dumping of waste from industrial and commercial development led to visible signs of pollution and increased concern about threats the river posed to public health. Between 1889 and 1910 the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago completed two major engineering projects to direct the flow of the river into the Des Plaines River and divert wastes away from Lake Michigan. The 28-mile Sanitary and Ship Canal was constructed between 1889 and 1900. Locks located near Lake Michigan and at Lockport diverted the flow of the North Branch, South Branch, and Main Stem into the canal and to the Des Plaines River. The completion of the 8-mile North Shore Channel in 1910 diverted wastes from the northern suburbs from Lake Michigan into the North Branch. *1

    In 1900, the Sanitary District of Chicago, then headed by Rudolph Hering, completely reversed the flow of the river using a series of canal locks, and caused the river to flow into the newly completed Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Before this time, the Chicago River was known by many local residents of Chicago as “the stinking river” because of the massive amounts of sewage and pollution which poured into the river from Chicago’s booming industrial economy. Through the 1980s, the river was quite dirty and often filled with garbage; however, during the 1990s, it underwent extensive cleaning as part of an effort at beautification by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. *2

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