For the most part, reversing the flow of the Chicago River works exceptionally well for the people living and working in the city. But occasionally, when large amounts of sewage flow into the river – as occurs in heavy rains – the water between the locks will rise faster than it can be drained. In such cases, the city can either open the locks nearest Lake Michigan and temporarily reverse river flow, permitting it to discharge into the lake or it can allow the river to overflow its banks.
The problem with opening the locks into Lake Michigan comes in the summertime when the pollution from the river will contaminate the beaches and force them to be closed. That of course, is something the city tries very hard to avoid and is the reason why, periodically, when rains fall hard on the city of Chicago, some buildings along the Chicago River will experience flooding. This is why Jim Sadowski was inside one of the buildings Marc Realty manages that Saturday, July 24th, setting up pumps.
And it is why Jim didn’t actually think all that much of the situation until around five o’clock in the morning, when his cell phone rang.
“I had finished checking all the sumps and ejectors and was rigging additional pumps when Property Manager Melissa Pietrzak at River City called and reported that water had breached the seawall that runs all along the riverside, west of the complex, and was rushing into the lower levels of the property,” Jim told us.