Swimming Getting Closer Every Day


On August 27, 2016 David St. Pierre, the executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), the agency in charge of our sewers and stormwater, and the biggest discharger to our waterways, jumped into the Little Calumet downstream of the Calumet sewage treatment plant to prove that he believes the water is clean enough for swimming.

St. Pierre’s jump, inspired by Steve Buchtel, executive director, Trails for Illinois, who jumped in with him (to benefit the Cal-Sag Trail), marks a moment in history that should be celebrated with brass bands and confetti.

Two thousand and sixteen is the first year that the MWRD is operating new disinfection equipment to remove harmful bacteria from their discharges to the river. Lack of disinfection was the prime issue that prevented swimming in the past. David felt safe because scientific tests by Argonne National Laboratory show that disinfection is working and the harmful bacteria that can make people sick are no longer being found in the water.

Some advocates believe that swimming is still more than a decade away but swimming is occurring already—and it is protected by law.  USEPA and the State of Illinois have approved new rules protecting the right to swim and Friend is committed to plans that will get people in the water closer to 2020 than 2030.  Our goal is to make swimming safe and sustainable by:

  • Working with government agencies to establish real-time water quality information so users can check water quality when they want to fish, paddle, row or swim,
  • Developing a water recreation master plan that includes dedicated swimming and wading areas protected from motor boats and barges,
  • Coordinating special swimming events to promote river swimming,
  • Limiting stormwater pollution to the river which can be as toxic as sewage through local and regional coordination and water conservation,
  • Ending combined sewer overflows any way we can, and
  • Vastly increasing the amount of trash that is removed from the rivers, 

Since 1979 Friends has been at the forefront of the river’s renaissance and recovery, and today is no different. Friends will continue to push to get people in, on, and along the water and while for many people swimming might take a big leap of faith just like David’s, we know we will make a big splash!