Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Has Mother Nature developed a multi-color hue for Chicago's namesake river

There’s one thing that anybody who’s native to Chicago knows for sure – our namesake river ain’t blue in color.
The natural muddy green of Chicago River. Photos by Gregory Tejeda
You might be able to look out to the east from downtown high rises and see a Lake Michigan that is a luscious blue in color and appears to extend off so far into the distance that you might mistake it for an ocean, rather than just a lake – albeit one of the Great Lakes that make the Midwestern U.S. so unique.

BUT EVERYBODY WHO’S ever spent time here knows the Chicago River, which the lake flows into so as to avoid having our sewage and waste wind up in our drinking water supply, knows our river water is different.

It has taken on a green hue. In fact, it has taken on different shades of green, and not just because of St. Patrick’s Day.

For on that March day, city officials go out of their way to add dyes to the river water (or at least the portion of the river that separates Downtown from the Near North Side) so that it becomes a bright Kelly green.

As opposed to the sickly, dingy green with a touch of brown to it that is the usual color of our namesake river.
Still some industry in downtown portions of Chicago River

IT’S ACTUALLY ONE of the local gags, the quality of our river. So tainted with sludge that it might almost be possible to walk across the water, even if you don’t happen to be Jesus Christ.

Or that one accidental tumble off a downtown bridge into the water and the biggest threat may not be that you’d drown, but that you’d become poisoned just by coming into contact with the water.
By comparison, salt piles along Chicago's 'other' river -- the Calumet
My own gag acknowledges the fact that the river water quality actually has improved in recent years – to where our river is no longer toxic, but is now merely polluted.

Despite all of these noxious comments (about as tainted as the river itself), I have to say I always considered the Chicago River – particularly the part of it that goes through downtown from Lake Michigan to the split between the south and north branches – to be a significant part of our city’s personality.

SO WHAT SHOULD we think about the fact our city’s river is now taking on distinct shades? Is it a split personality? A physical manifestation of Chicago’s character?

For what it’s worth, WLS-TV on Monday reported that since Friday and through the weekend, the river has taken on distinct shades of green. The south branch being the usual muddy green color that we usually associate with the river while the north branch has a brighter shade almost like that fake green trotted out every St. Patrick’s Day.

Is this Mother Nature’s way of saying we ought to celebrate St. Patty’s Day every day in Chicago?
Is the muddy green color appropriate as river passes Trump tower?
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the Chicago Department of Water Management both told the television station that this multi-shade of green is actually natural, and not something we need to concern ourselves with. Not yet, anyway.

RECENT STORMS AND seasonal vegetation changes allegedly are responsible for the varying hues. Although further tests are supposedly still being taken to see if there’s going to be any lasting effect to Chicago River water.

Personally, I find this quirky – almost something to laugh about. Considering that Chicagoans of any sense know better than to drink directly from the river, and that we know it is still decades far in the future that one-time Mayor Richard J. Daley’s decades-old dream of people being able to fish in the Chicago River will become reality.

So as for our river, we’ll have to adapt to multi-shades of green, and let’s hope it doesn’t turn fiery red.

The Cleveland Indians baseball team may be closer to a World Series appearance than our Chicago White Sox, but we’re more than willing to let Cleveland and its Cuyahoga River (which caught fire due to the waste in the water back in 1969) be unique.


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