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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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River Sensitive Projects Win Chicago River Blue Awards

Friends of the Chicago River was pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Chicago River Blue Awards presented at Friends’ annual gala, the Big Fish Ball. The Big Fish Ball, established in 2006, raised $260,000 to benefit Friends’ effort to improve and protect the Chicago River system.

The Chicago River Blue Awards honor the work of developers, architects, municipalities, planners and others for their creative approaches to projects within the Chicago River watershed that employ river-sensitive design. In its eighth year, the Friends’ program recognizes those who strive for the ideal in sustainable design that takes people, water, and wildlife into account.  This year, six recipients were chosen for awards including the City of Chicago for the Chicago Riverwalk. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was on hand to receive the award. Presented by McDermott Will & Emery, the Big Fish Ball was attended by 500 guests.

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Friends' Executive Director Named 2017 River Hero

Friends' executive director, Margaret Frisbie was recently named a 2017 River Hero by the national advocacy group, River Network, which recognized five leaders from the river and water conservation community for their exceptional personal and professional achievements in support of river and water protection and restoration. 

“For nearly two decades, Margaret Frisbie has championed efforts to transform the Chicago River from a forgotten back alleyway into a thriving and respected national resource,” says Openlands' staff attorney, Stacy Meyers. Since being appointed to her position as executive director of Friends of the Chicago River in 2005, Frisbie has been working to improve water quality for the Chicago River system. “Margaret Frisbie truly embodies a river hero,” says Meyers. 

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With Help Fish Populations Continue to Improve

With continued improvements in water quality such as more dissolved oxygen and less sewage, fish populations in the Chicago River have been increasing well. Friend and the Department of Natural Resources are helping by increasing reproductive habitat for channel catfish and, starting next week, we will plant water willow and lizard's tail, native plants that should thrive despite the ups and downs of the Chicago River from rain events and which provide great cover for small fish and all kind of aquatic invertebrates.

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River Photo Bomb a Blast

“More than 200 hundred river supporters showed up for our “Keep the Chicago River Clean” photo bomb yesterday,” said Friends’ executive director, Margaret Frisbie. “Their energy and enthusiasm was overwhelming and demonstrates how people care for the river and want to help make it healthy any way they can.

“In addition to MWRD President Mariyana Spyropoulos and Commissioners Barbara McGowan, Debra Shore, and Kari Steele (pictured here),  representatives a host of partner organizations joined in including the Chinese American Service League, City Winery, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Friends of the Forest Preserves, SOM, USEPA, and Wendella. It is all of our work together that is bringing the river to life.”

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We Need You on the Riverwalk Wednesday

April is Overflow Action Month and to build awareness Friends of the Chicago River is planning a giant group photo event on the Chicago Riverwalk at the River Theater between Clark and LaSalle. Friends’ goal is to attract hundreds of people who will be photographed on the large stairs there demonstrating they want the river to be healthy and clean. 

Giant Group Photo on the Chicago Riverwalk April 26

Chicago Riverwalk - River Theater between Clark and LaSalle at 12:15 p.m.


"The river has improved dramatically,” said Margaret Frisbie, Friends’ executive director, “and there is so much interest in it right now that it is almost difficult to keep track of it all. However, despite everyone’s enthusiasm for the Chicago Riverwalk, new developments, and getting out on the water there are still a lot of complex problems we need to address including stormwater runoff and occasional sewage pollution—especially this month when there’s been so much rain. We want to people to be aware. Therefore we are holding the Keep the River Clean Photobomb and hope that at least 500 people will join us to represent the thousand who care.  We implore everyone to tell their friends and co-workers, and get ready to smile for the river."


The Overflow Action initiative was launched last year to conserve and protect clean, fresh water and reduce pollution to the river. During the month of April, Friends is running a 30 day campaign to engage people in water conservation activities to help the Chicago River. The photobomb takes place on April 26, 2017, at 12:15 p.m. and is free and open to the public. For more information on this event, contact Joanne So Young Dill, director of strategic initiatives, at (312) 939-0490, ext. 23, jdill@chicagoriver.org. 

Friends hopes to capture the spirit of the river through the smiling faces of those who truly care.

Home page photo courtesy Steven Dahlman-Loop North New

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