The Chicago Harbor Lock, located in Chicago and adjacent to Navy Pier, separates the waters of Lake Michigan from the Chicago River. It is one of two entrances from the Great Lakes to the Illinois Waterway System. And, according to its Lockmaster Selwyn Tyrone Valley, last year’s lockage numbers were down by about half.
“In terms of lockages and vessels, we usually are the busiest in the nation,” Valley said. “But because of the COVID pandemic, not a lot of people were out and about last year, so our numbers were low compared to the year before.”
Last year, there were 6,594 lockages, a quarter of a million passengers, and almost 35,278 vessels. In 2019, it had 10,000 lockages, 1.16 million passengers, and about 62,000 vessels.
A 13-member team operates the lock 24/7. There are 10 operators, a mechanic, and a lockmaster assistant. As the Lockmaster, Valley oversees the day-to-day operations and maintenance for the Chicago Harbor Lock, supervising this team.
The lock chamber is 600 feet long x 80 feet wide x 23 feet deep. Filling/emptying is gravity-fed through partially-opened lock gates, and there is typically a two- to five-foot difference between Lake Michigan and Chicago River water levels. It takes about 15 to 17 minutes to cycle through the lock.
Release no. 21-004