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The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) is conducting a Use Attainability Analysis (UAA) of the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). The primary focus of the UAA will be on the Calumet and Chicago River basin currently classified in Illinois Statute as Secondary Contact and Indigenous Aquatic Life. CAWS also consists of Lake Calumet and several General Use classified tributaries.

Most of CAWS composed of artificially dug channels. The Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal, the Calumet-Sag Channel and the North Shore Channel were constructed about 100 years ago to create navigation routes between the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes and to carry wastewater away from a rapidly growing Chicago. The Little Calumet River North Leg, the Chicago River and the North and South Branches of the Chicago River are natural reaches that have been modified, in many cases extensively through deepening, widening and channelizing. River modification and channel construction was accompanied by the installation of control structures that accomplishing a reversal of the original flow direction of the Little Calumet River North Leg and the Chicago River and its South Branch; they flow away from Lake Michigan and join up with the Des Plaines River and then the Illinois River west of Joliet, IL. About 80% of CAWS flow consists of treated and periodic rain related combined sewage from 5 million Cook County, Illinois residents and another approximately 4.5 million industrial load population equivalents.

The purpose of the UAA is to determine if other use classifications are more appropriate for CAWS or any portions thereof. Stakeholder involvement is critical to this process and the City of Chicago's “River Corridor Development Plan,” the Friends of the Chicago River's “Urban River Monitoring and Recovery Initiative Project,” Lake Calumet area interest groups’ “Vision for Lake Calumet” and other such relevant programs will be considered during the analysis.

Specific objectives of the UAA include:

Reviewing and evaluating available environmental data to determine the physical, chemical and biological condition of the waterway, recommending the generation of additional water and sediment quality data and evaluating the additional data in order to accomplish the objectives.

Determining the existing uses of various reaches of the system.

Characterizing the types, causes and sources of major stressors on the system, including potential use impairments identified in IEPA's most recent Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list.

Assessing available water quality and habitat management options for eliminating or reducing system stressors.

Determining the potential to achieve and maintain uses other than existing uses.

Developing recommended use designations and associated water quality standards necessary to achieve the highest attainable uses consistent with the Clean Water Act goals and Chapter 2 of USEPA's Water Quality Standards Handbook.

IEPA has contracted Camp, Dresser & McKee, Inc. (CDM) to conduct the UAA study. CDM has put together a team of qualified experts, including: HydroQual, who is currently conducting the UAA for New York City; and Hill and Knowlton, who is providing public relations support for the project.

It is anticipated that the project will take approximately 2 years to complete, with a final report being prepared and submitted to the IEPA for submission to the Illinois Pollution Control Board for approval of revised uses and standards. The UAA team is working very closely with the stakeholders to address and incorporate their concerns and recommendations into the process.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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