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Four years after the Chicago River flow was reversed to protect the city’s water supply, the Calumet River was just as big a threat. The Illinois General Assembly annexed the Calumet area into the Sanitary District of Chicago and it was time to make another plan and get moving, but there were obstacles to reversing another river. A proposed Calumet-Sag Channel could be built to reverse the Calumet River flow, but the federal government was balking and wouldn’t issue a permit. And dilution was not proving to be the end-all solution to the public health and pollution crisis.
Something better was needed. The feds finally agreed to a smaller Cal-Sag channel, and construction began in 1911, at the same time that sewage treatment research was showing promise. A daring plan for this Calumet crisis was launched in 1915 when some of the District’s first intercepting sewer construction began, followed by pumping station construction in 1918 and treatment plant construction in 1920. By late summer 1922, it all came together when treatment began and the channel was opened, keeping treated sewage out of Lake Michigan. Calumet was the first District comprehensive plan for treatment and disposal. Meanwhile, the northwest area of Cook County was also annexed to the District; but rather than extend the intercepting sewers, new treatment plants were constructed.
District service increased to tend to the growing population in the South Area, but it slowed during the Great Depression and World War II. The South Area developed as post-war suburbs were annexed to the District, its intercepting sewers extended to serve the booming population. Industrial growth prompted the federal government to enlarge the Calumet-Sag Channel for commercial navigation, with the unintended benefit of better flood control and recreation for all.
Today, District water management in the South Area continues to benefit the age-honored bi-state Calumet area, which is experiencing community revitalization, ecological restoration, and plans for a national heritage area designation. Calumet is forever.
Author Richard Lanyon has had a life-long association with the waterways in and around Chicago. He retired as executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago in 2010 after a 50-year career in urban water issues.
Calumet: First and Forever
Author: Richard Lanyon
Imprint: Lake Claremont Press: A Chicago Joint
Page Count: 426 pp.
Pub Date: September 21, 2020
Format: Trade paperback, 6" x 9"
Photos: Click on the photo galleries link under the book cover on this page to see historic images that illustrate the book.