Who’ll Stop The Rain

(Continued)

When he arrived at the building he immediately set to work ensuring that sewage ejectors and sump pumps were running and began the task of setting up additional pumps to keep water coming into the buildings lower level to a minimum.

That water entered the lower levels of a building along the Chicago river may be news to most people living in the city but to the men and women who operate and maintain commercial property, it’s well known that more than a few buildings are vulnerable to flooding if conditions are right and the operators of the locks along the river do not respond quickly enough when water levels rise.

Originally, the 156 mile long Chicago River emptied into Lake Michigan. Then, in 1900, engineers reversed the flow of the river so that it now empties into the Mississippi Valley. The reversal was brought about through the installation and use of a series of locks that restrict the flow of the river and allow river levels to the north, near Lake Michigan, to be higher than the levels of the river south.

There was good reason to reverse the flow of the river, especially back in the early 20th Century. No EPA existed back then and both industry and residents along the banks of the river used it to dump raw sewage, garbage and anything else that would float away or disappear below its murky surface. As the river emptied into Lake Michigan, poisonous effluents found their way into near shore water pumping stations, causing periodic outbreaks of illness among citizens who drank the water. Despite moving water intakes away from shore and onto manmade cribs built out in the lake, the shear amount of pollution leaving the city coupled with a constant buildup of silt, made it impossible to protect water intakes.