Intention: By focusing on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, I want to return to the city’s original sin of sending its waste south to afflict downstate Illinois, southern states and the Gulf of Mexico. The reason for taking up the early 20th Century sin now is that the environmental and public health abuses have mounted. The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico fed, in part, by Chicagoland’s wastewater has grown to the size of New Jersey and shows no signs of abating. Flooding in Chicago and throughout Illinois has become an expected disaster even as other parts of the Midwest and West face crippling droughts.
A water system created to allow industries to pollute with impunity and metropolises to foist their wastes on vulnerable communities is out of date and dangerous in the 21st Century. Yet, there is little talk of change. Instead, we hear ever more elaborate projects to shore up a broken system. I want to speak honestly about how the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) works, alert the public to the harm that it subsidies with tax dollars, and propose a new system that treats water like the precious source that it is. Instead of a backward river of waste, I envision green industry built around water recycling.
Bio: Rachel Havrelock is the founder and director of the Freshwater Lab and a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. A childhood of swimming in the Great Lakes created an indissoluble bond with water. Decades of research in the Middle East led to her books River Jordan and The Joshua Generation, as well as to a position on the Ecopeace Middle East International Advisory Committee. Since 2015, Dr. Havrelock has focused on Great Lakes research and teaching a new generation of water leaders. She believes that the Great Lakes watershed can survive and thrive amidst accelerated Climate Change, but that a series of necessary actions must occur now. Through collaboration, the Freshwater Lab has created both The Backward River and the Freshwater Stories digital platforms.