Chicago River Summit Spurs Discussion of a Garbage-Free River

The 2018 Chicago River Summit brought industry leaders together to share strategies for managing river waste

Chicago River Summit

On March 7, Friends of the Chicago River hosted the 2018 Chicago River Summit with a focus on pathways to a garbage-free Chicago River. The summit featured a wide range of speakers representing river systems around the U.S. who shared waste management strategies in their own watersheds with Chicago river advocates. Storm Water Solutions (SWS) editors attended the event and observed discussions of river waste collection, microplastic pollution, floating wetlands and flood management.

Microplastic pollution and halting river waste at the source were hot topics of discussion. Associate Professor of Loyola University Tim Hoellein shared his research on microplastic pollution in Lake Michigan and the Chicago River as well as ongoing efforts to ban microplastic in consumer products. Similarly, Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of Ocean Voyages Institute, discussed her experiences aboard ocean cleanup expeditions off the coast of California with microplastic and ghost net pollution.

David St. Pierre, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) shared the history of the MWRD, from the growing city’s first wastewater treatment plant to the sprawling Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) and the recently completed McCook Reservoir, which has already begun protecting Chicagoans from flooding. St. Pierre engaged in discussions with the attendees regarding changes moving forward, the continued development of the McCook Reservoir Stage II, and the MWRD skimmer boats. 

MWRD David St. PierreMary Crowley of Ocean Voyages Institute

Left: David St. Pierre of the MWRD presents. Right: Mary Crowley of Ocean Voyages Institute discusses cleanup efforts.

While leaders such as the Healthy Harbor Initiative in Baltimore, with Mr. Trash Wheel, and the Anacostia Riverkeeper in Washington D.C. are working to clean up river litter, summit attendees pondered the problem of how to stop waste at the source from entering our waterway systems. The speakers and the Friends of the Chicago River urged attendees to not only lend a hand in the cleanup, but to speak with our legislators and be the catalyst for change.

Moving forward, Chicago River advocates hope to implement some of the waterway restoration methods shared during the summit and use the conversations started as a launching point for continued development. The conversation continues May 12 during the 26th annual Chicago River Day, a day to get outside and cleanup the Chicago river.

SWS editors attendSWS editors attend river summer

Left: SWS Associate Editor Amy McIntosh and SWS Managing Editor Lauren Baltas at the start of the summit. Right: SWS Associate Editor Lauren Estes overlooks the Chicago River after the summit.

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