Friends works to improve the health of the river and adjacent lands.

Despite many significant accomplishments, complex challenges still exist. The climate crisis is exacerbating these issues. Learn more about the challenges facing the river system and how Friends and our partners are working to address these issues.

Impaired Water Quality

  • Combined Sewer Overflows: untreated sewage is discharged into the Chicago River during severe storms
  • Stormwater runoff: pollutants from roofs and pavement run into the river during rain events
  • Nutrient Pollution: excess phosphorus and nitrogen harm aquatic wildlife
  • Lack of Dissolved Oxygen: poor water quality lowers dissolved oxygen that aquatic life require
  • Excessive Chlorides: excessive use of road salts harm our waters and aquatic wildlife
  • Inconsistent Water Quality Monitoring: regular monitoring allows Friends to monitor water quality
  • Litter / Floatables: plastics and other trash flow into the river system during rain events

Threatened Habitat and Wildlife

  • Invasive Species: nonnative plants and wildlife crowd out native species and reduce biodiversity
  • Degraded Habitat and Fragmentation: urban development isolates habitats, lessening biodiversity
  • Loss of Open Space:  the risk of losing valuable open spaces increases as development pressure expands
  • Increasing Endangered Species: habitat loss and fragmentation threaten the existence of many species

Responsible River Edge Development

  • Development Turning its Back on the River: older developments see riverfront as the back door
  • Lack of Public Access: many areas still do not have public access to the river’s edge
  • Inconsistent Treatment of the River Edge Setback: some developments lack amenities required by 2019 guidelines
  • Impervious Surfaces: with increasing development along the river, hard surfaces increase stormwater reaching the river

Public Access and Community Engagement

  • Inequity in Recreational Access: not all neighborhoods have access to the Chicago River
  • Disconnected Trail Systems: the many paths, existing or planned, do not yet create a continuous system
  • Unaware of River Recreational Opportunities: there is no single resource about recreation on the river
  • River Traffic and Safety: barges and large tour boats can create hazardous conditions for smaller watercraft