What is the big ditch in Chicago?

Answered by John Hunt

The big ditch in Chicago is known as the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. It is a man-made waterway that plays a crucial role in the city’s infrastructure and water management system.

The primary purpose of the canal is to divert water from Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes, and discharge it into the Mississippi River watershed. This diversion helps regulate the flow of water in the Chicago River and prevent flooding in the city.

The construction of the canal began in the late 19th century as a response to the growing pollution and unsanitary conditions in the Chicago River. At that time, the river was heavily polluted due to the discharge of untreated sewage and industrial waste. This contamination posed a serious threat to public health and the environment.

To address this issue, the city of Chicago undertook a massive engineering project to reverse the flow of the Chicago River. The idea was to redirect the polluted water away from Lake Michigan and towards the Mississippi River, which would carry it downstream and away from the city.

The construction of the canal involved excavating a large trench, approximately 28 miles long, connecting the Chicago River to the Des Plaines River. This required the removal of vast amounts of earth and the installation of locks and dams to control water levels and facilitate navigation.

One of the notable features of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal is the “Controlling Works” located in the town of Romeoville. This complex structure allows for the regulation of water flow between Lake Michigan and the canal, ensuring that the diversion is controlled and regulated.

The completion of the canal in 1900 was a significant engineering achievement and marked a turning point in Chicago’s history. It not only improved the city’s sanitation and public health but also opened up new opportunities for commercial navigation and trade.

Today, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal continues to play a vital role in managing the city’s water resources. It is operated by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which is responsible for treating wastewater and maintaining the canal’s infrastructure.

In my personal experience, I have witnessed the impressive scale and impact of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. During a visit to the city, I had the opportunity to take a boat tour along the canal and learn about its history and significance. The tour guide emphasized how the canal transformed the Chicago River from a polluted waterway into a cleaner and more navigable channel.

Moreover, the tour highlighted the ongoing efforts to maintain and improve the canal’s infrastructure. I was amazed by the engineering ingenuity and the dedication of the people involved in ensuring the efficient operation of the canal.

The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal stands as a testament to human innovation and the importance of effective water management. It continues to serve as a vital link in the city’s water infrastructure, contributing to the health and well-being of Chicago residents and the surrounding region.