All Wet in the Chicago River

On September 16, 2017, Friends of the Chicago River and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Josina Morita were joined by elected officials from every level of government for Josina and Friends’ Big Jump into the Chicago River.

Representing the U.S. House of Representatives, the State of Illinois, Cook County, and the City of Chicago as well as partners from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and Friends, the 15 jumpers took the plunge to highlight our collective success in improving the river’s water quality and to demonstrate our commitment to making the Chicago River swimmable for all.

Thanks to all who help us make a big splash in the work we do every day!

Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

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Friends Recognized with City for Urban Excellence Award

In September, Friends of the Chicago River was among the recipients of a silver medal for Urban Excellence in Design from the Rudy Bruner Foundation for the 2017 Rudy Bruner Awards which recognize transformative places that contribute to the economic, environmental, and social vitality of American cities. 

Friends has been a catalyst for riverfront protection for nearly 40 years and was a part of the Chicago Riverwalk design process from the very beginning.

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Reports of Dead Birds

A series of reports regarding dead birds along the North Shore Channel, North Branch and the Main Stem has triggered a response from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) which suspects Botulism C as the source.

IDNR has asked Friends to field calls regarding dead birds in and along the river so all reports should be directed to


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Dead Ducks on North Shore Channel

Last week a Friends of the Chicago River volunteer reported seeing as many as 50 dead mallards on the North Shore Channel which we reported to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Hazardous Waste Dump Line and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. So far no one has figured out what went wrong but 50 dead ducks is a big deal and we need to do better in taking care of the river and the wildlife which depends upon it.

Anyone with information should contact Friends at (312) 939-0490, ext 10 or at ASAP.

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USACE Releases Asian Carp Report

For months, Friends, along with supporters and partners, have been urging Congress to require the Trump administration to release the Brandon Road study that outlines how to prevent Asian carp and other aquatic invasives from passing upstream into the Chicago River system and the Great Lakes. Today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District, has released the draft and this is good news. 

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Friends Wins Force of Nature Award

Friends of the Chicago River is honored to have received a 2017 Chicago Wilderness Force of Nature Award for our turtle restoration project.

Over the past three years Friends has cleared 78 acres along the river system so turtles could find new places to nest. Some of these sites had documented nesting the following year. The speed of the turtles’ response is highly unusual in wildlife restoration work. The award recognizes those who “extend above and beyond the ordinary and are inspirational examples for others.”

The award was accepted by Craig Coit, a Friends’ board member and past president.

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Mary Schmich Discovers the Chicago River

People talk about the many wonderful activities you can do in a Chicago summer, but paddling the Chicago River isn't always first on the list. However, those of us who are out there (and the numbers are growing) know how truly magnificent it is. Chicago Tribune reporter, Mary Schmich, went paddling for the first time on the Chicago River with Friends' executive director, Margaret Frisbie. Frisbie's story of appreciating urban nature is deeply rooted and advocacy to protect the Chicago River system is helping change the way we all view our river.

The Chicago River is alive with wildlife and Frisbie and Schmich spotted dozens of turtles, herons, kingfishers and a muskrat while they were out. 

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Otters: Making a Comeback

According to Chris Anchor, senior wildlife biologist with Forest Preserves of Cook County otters are making a comeback in the Chicago area and in the Chicago River system. He sighted one on South Branch, seen evidence behind the Lyric Opera, and monitored  a male that spent a winter in a FPCC pond and then swam up the Cal-Sag to the Des Plaines River where he met some females near River Trails Nature Center in Northbrook traveling more than 40 miles by water.

According to Anchor river otters are an apex predator and "rely on the health of the entire wetland ecosystem to survive." By understanding river otter behavior, researchers can figure out what kinds of habitat restoration will benefit them most.  "We didn't think the (Chicago River) water quality was good enough," said Anchor in one interview. "Of particular concern was the gas and oil runoff from local roads; experts feared it would enter waterways and interfere with the water-repellent qualities of the otters' fur, causing hypothermia."  

Check out Curious City's take on whether and where there's otters in the Chicago River.

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There's Still Sewage

While in general ambient water quality is vastly improved with the accumulating impact of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (aka  Deep Tunnel) and sewage treatment plant discharge disinfection, Michael Hawthorne, reporter for the Chicago Tribune, writes that the City of Chicago and the MWRD need to do more to stop sewage from ending up in the water. Tribune analysis found that in 2016 more than 1 billion gallons of sewage and stormwater was released into the Chicago River system at least six times and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) occurred on average every six days.

At present Friends is working with USEPA, MWRD, the Chicago Park District and others to establish public notification best practices and to determine how we meet and enforce the water quality standards already set which include primary contact (think swimming) in many reaches of the river system.

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Silver Carp Found in Calumet River

Today a live silver carp was found in the Calumet River downstream of the O'Brien Lock and Dam.  The fact that they found this fish between the O’Brien lock and the electric barrier in Romeoville underscores the urgency for the White House to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to release their study of how to prevent these fish from breeching the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet. The USACE was going to release the report in February but the Trump administration put it on hold.

Kevin Irons, IDNR's lead ecologist on invasives, called discovery "disappointing" but said it's too early to tell whether the fish swam from downstream or was released somewhere else in the Chicago waterway system. An autopsy should yield more information by mid-July, he said.



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