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Urban Municipal Water: A Case Study of Chicago. Kate Paulson. Why did people settle in Chicago?. -Chicago sits on a natural sub continental drainage divide. -Water east of the divide flowed toward the Atlantic Ocean, while water west of the divide flowed to the Mississippi River.

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Urban Municipal Water: A Case Study of Chicago

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Urban municipal water a case study of chicago

Urban Municipal Water:

A Case Study of Chicago

Kate Paulson


Why did people settle in chicago

Why did people settle in Chicago?

-Chicago sits on a natural sub continental drainage divide.

-Water east of the divide flowed toward the Atlantic Ocean, while water west of the divide flowed to the Mississippi River.

-When the water level is high, the distance between the two water systems is non-existent.

-This geographic characteristic could provide an unbroken water route between the Niagara frontier and the Gulf of Mexico.


Urban municipal water a case study of chicago

New settlers bring new problems

-Chicago’s earliest residents had used the river as their source of water and sanitation with no serious problems.

- As the village grew, residents built homes further back from the river. Pit toilets were dug which soon contaminated shallow wells nearby, and filth collected in shallow bogs and sinkholes when it rained.

-2,000 head of cattle, sheep and hogs were slaughtered daily.

-Manure was dumped into the streets and dead livestock was piled along the waterfront.

-Ditches and slanted streets were built so that waste would drain away when it rained.

-Filth seeped under the streets and rotted. Chicago was soon known for its pestiferous odor.

-In 1849, cholera was brought to Chicago. That year 678 people died.

-In 1854 over five percent of the population died form cholera.

-Children were especially susceptible to diseases. To the left if a graph of infant mortalities through Chicago’s struggle for sanitation.

-Deaths were most common after rainfalls in low lying areas where water would collect.


Urban municipal water a case study of chicago

Early Waterworks

-Chicago’s first water system began operating in 1842.

-The system consisted of an elevated wood talk from which water flowed into wooden pipes laid under the streets.

-New pumping stations were soon constructed to distribute water to the fast growing city.

-One of there towers (shown at the right) withstood the Chicago Fire of 1871 and still stands today.

-In 1969 the Tower was nationally recognized as the First American Water Landmark.

-Although the waterworks pumped the water, it did not clean it.

-When weather turned cold, millions of minnows sought the warmth of the waterworks’ breakwater where they would be pumped into the city reservoirs.

-Water was said to strongly taste of fish.

-A liquor dealer was once caught watering down his supply because pickled minnows were found in his bottles.


Urban municipal water a case study of chicago

Channels and Canals

-Health problems arose because wastewater and other contaminants were dumped into the river and pushed into Lake Michigan (the water supply for Chicago).

-The Chicago Sanitary District (now the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District) was created by the Illinois legislature in 1889.

-The new agency made plans to construct channels and canals to reverse the flow of the rivers away from Lake Michigan.

-A plan was devised to cut through the ridge that separated the Great Lakes drainage system and the Mississippi River drainage system.

-In 1900 a 28 mile canal was completed from the south branch of the river to the low summit and down to Lockport.

-The Flow of the canal, known as the Sanitary and Ship Canal, is controlled by locks at the mouth of the Chicago River and at Lockport.

-Other canals including the North Shore channel and the Calumet Sag Channel were built to rid other areas of the city of waste.


Reversal effects downstream communities

Reversal Effects Downstream Communities

-Although the reversal of the river helped Chicago, other cities suffered.

-Waste and contaminants flowed from Chicago’s sewers into water intakes that were now downstream.

-The city of St. Louis and the State of Missouri brought a lawsuit against the State of Illinois and the Chicago Sanitary District in 1900 to stop the dumping of raw sewage into the Mississippi River.

-The case made it to the Supreme Court.

-The ruling was in favor of Chicago and the State of Illinois.

-The reason given was that the Illinois River was less polluted than the Mississippi River and St. Louis.

-As Chicago’s water quality increased, downstream communities were faced with severe water contaminants.


The tunnel and reservoir plan

The Tunnel and Reservoir Plan

-When rain falls, storm runoff drains into a combined sewer where it mixed with the sewerage flow from homes and industries.

-In the 1970’s a team of engineers developed a plan to control the flooding and water pollution called the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, or TARP.

-109 miles of underground tunnels would intercept combined sewer and put it into large storage reservoirs until it could be treated.

-The project was nearly 75% funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

-The 109 miles of tunnels should be completed by 2004.

-The mainstream tunnel (shown on the right) is 35 feet in diameter and lies 240 to 350 feet below ground and holds one billion gallons of water.

-The three reservoirs will increase the capacity of the TARP system by 15.6 billion gallons.

-TARP has been named one of the nation’s top Clean Water Act success stories by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.


Wastewater treatment plants

Wastewater Treatment Plants

-In 1919, the Board of Commissioners ordered the District to construct and operate sewage treatment plants.

-The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant (shown below) is the largest wastewater treatment facility in the world.

-This plant alone serves 2.38 million people and has a design capacity of 1,200 million gallons per day.

-The plant serves people in a 260 square mile area including the central part of Chicago and 43 suburban communities.

-Stickney consists of two plants; the west side portion was placed into service in 1930 and the southwest portion was placed into service in 1939.


Important points

Important Points

  • People settled in Chicago because of it’s ideal location. The natural sub continental divide provided an unbroken water route between the Niagara frontier and the Gulf of Mexico.

  • As the area’s population rapidly increased, Chicago’s water became contaminated by livestock and human wastes.

  • Deaths were most common in children and after rainfalls in low lying areas where water would collect.

  • Although new water systems distributed the water, they did not clean it. Contaminant including fish could be found in drinking water.

  • The Chicago Sanitary District (now the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District) was created by the Illinois legislature in 1889.

  • The new agency made plans to construct channels and canals to reverse the flow of the rivers away from Lake Michigan.

  • In 1900 a 28 mile canal, known as the Sanitary and Ship Canal was completed from the south branch of the river to the low summit and down to Lockport.

  • Waste and contaminants flowed from Chicago’s sewers into water intakes that were now downstream.

  • The city of St. Louis and the State of Missouri lost a lawsuit against Chicago and the State of Illinois.

  • In the 1970’s a team of engineers developed a plan to control the flooding and water pollution called the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, or TARP.

  • TARP has been named one of the nation’s top Clean Water Act success stories by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

  • In 1919, the Board of Commissioners ordered the District to construct and operate sewage treatment plants.


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