Think that since streams in Northern Illinois flow into Lake Michigan, Chicago’s water pollution remains local? Think again.
The Illinois River drains 11,000 square miles of our state, and draws water from three major river basins in the region. The river then flows west into the Mississippi River, not eastward towards Lake Michigan. Only water that flows across a very thin strip of Chicago’s shoreline runs directly into the lake.
Because waterways close to Chicago flow primarily away from the city and Lake Michigan, pollutants in these waters can become problems for our neighbors downstream. Pollution carried down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico contributes to a notorious “dead zone”—an area of lifelessness in the Gulf that is now over 8,000 square miles.
Fortunately, in recent years, Chicago has cleaned up its water, enabling the city to become a better neighbor by sending less pollution downstream.