The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal

Michael McGuire reminds us that today is the 116th anniversary of one of the great milestones in the push toward clean and safe drinking water in the urbanized world – the opening of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. This allowed Chicago to dump its sewage into the Mississippi River rather than Lake Michigan, from whence Chicago’s drinking water came. This seemed like a great idea to the Chicagoans. Not so much to the folks in St. Louis, 357 miles downstream:

The total travel distance for the sewage from its generation to St. Louis intake was about 357 miles. Missouri sued Illinois to plug the connection to the Mississippi River, also called the Sanitary and Ship Canal, which they claimed was contaminating the St. Louis water supply and increasing the incidence of typhoid fever in that community.

I recommend McGuire’s piece, which traces the legal wrangling. Getting to the point where our tap water’s safety can be mostly taken for granted was a long struggle, and this is one of its important sagas.

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