Chicago’s waterways are some of the most altered river systems in the Midwest; the system has experienced stream channel relocation, channelization, removal of riparian plant communities, total reversal of basin flow, reduction in ground water inflow, combined sewer overflows, erratic inflows of effluent from industry, and other degradation. In the past 20 years, ecological restoration and technological investments, combined with water quality improvements, have increased diversity of fishes, aquatic macroinvertebrates, and riparian habitat heterogeneity. This highly urbanized stream system will remain low in overall native aquatic habitat diversity unless restoration is pursued. Technological improvements have and will continue to improve the water quality of this system, but habitat restoration is necessary to sustain an improved level of diversity and abundance of aquatic organisms along the river corridor.
In April 2019, USACE received a request under the Planning Assistance to States authority to assist the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) in updating and expanding physical and social data on the inland waterways. Given the input from the River Ecology and Governance Task Force, DPD requested assistance in developing a comprehensive planning framework for the Chicago waterways. USACE and DPD invited the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC), and the Chicago Park District (CPD) to join the partnership, starting a robust collaboration to develop the Chicago Waterways Restoration Framework Plan.