West by Southwest to Stickney: Draining the Central Area of Chicago and Exorcising Clout
The annexation of 1889 made Chicago's South Side the largest of the city's three sewer districts. With it came such challenges as Hyde Park sewers discharging to Lake Michigan, contamination threats at the Sixty-Eighth Street water intake crib; inadequate sewers and flooding; and the public health disaster of Bubbly Creek, the West Arm of the South Fork. Implementing the mayor's Pure Water Plan to eliminate sewers discharging to the lake involved intense cooperation. The city constructed huge intercepting sewers and a new pumping station, while the Sanitary District of Chicago contributed funding for some of the city's work.
Addressing its own priorities, the District enlarged the capacity of the South Branch of the Chicago River, replacing obstructive bridges and widening and deepening the channel to pass enough water to keep Lake Michigan free of sewage and to provide dilution for sewage in the canals and rivers. Extending the Sanitary and Ship Canal and building the hydroelectric powerhouse at Lockport fulfilled the dream of low-cost sustainable power. The creation of what became the massive Stickney plant and sewershed eventually brought the promise of drainage relief to South and West Side residents and eliminated the daily discharge of sewage to the canals and the Des Plaines River. Finally, the Deep Tunnel project is bringing an end to the frequent discharge of sewage tainted stormwater to canals and rivers.
This is the story of draining the South and West Sides of Chicago, and western suburbs; of eliminating the stagnant, encrusted cesspool that was Bubbly Creek; and of clearing the politics of out of the District to deliver taxpayers efficient, professional, and reliable service.