The Real History Behind Reversing the Chicago River | North Coast Chronicles

December 22, 2023

Chicago's water history, a transformative tale!

The Real History Behind Reversing the Chicago River with Mr. Dick Lanyan, who spent 48 years with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, where he became the executive director and ran the day-to-day operations - which addresses the industrial waste load equivalent for 9 million people.Very early in our American history, the potential for Chicago to be the center of an expansive water system, connecting the East and the West with its location on Lake Michigan and along the Chicago River, prompted the federal government to establish Fort Dearborn in 1803 where Chicago now sits.There is no shortage of written and digital stories about the Chicago River and how it was reversed almost 124 years ago on January 1, 1900. It is referred to as an engineering marvel – and certainly – it took engineering know-how and back breaking work to create this “Big Ditch.”But, the story of Chicago’s challenges as a booming metropolis started way before the re-direction of the Chicago River and has everything to do with its location on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan and the great Chicago population boom.Further, Chicago's days of flooding are far from over related to climate change and its continued large population.

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Helen Brohl

Helen Brohl is a Great Lakes gal, having grown up on the south shore of Lake Erie and a lifetime of summers on Middle Bass Island. Helen understands the Great Lakes as a valuable resource with a Master's Degree from The Ohio State University in Great Lakes Land and Water Use Policy and as an economic engine for the nation with almost 40 years of experience in maritime transportation and trade development. Helen previously worked as professional staff on the U.S. Congressional House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, with NOAA's Office of Coast Management, did trade development for the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, was the Director of Marketing for the Port of Chicago, the Executive Director of the U.S. Great Lakes Shipping Association, and retired in January 2023 after almost 17 years as the Executive Director of the U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System in Washington, DC. Follow along as Helen shares the nature, folk lore, and charm of the Great Lakes!