Water District eyes river swimming survey

Would you swim in the Chicago River?

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago may ask residents exactly that question.

The district's Board of Commissioners is considering a survey to gauge whether Cook County residents are interested in taking a dip in local waterways, including the Chicago River, the North Shore Channel, the Cal-Sag Channel, the Calumet river system, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and Lake Calumet.

The district would have to disinfect effluent from its treatment plants to improve water quality to the point where recreational activities like kayaking and swimming would be safe.

Margaret Frisbie, executive director of the Friends of the Chicago River says the MWRD currently only disinfects effluent seasonally in suburban areas.

At their meeting yesterday, commissioners discussed paying $139,545 to University of Illinois-Chicago researchers to query county residents on their current and desired recreational use of the waterways.

Some commissioners expressed concern about the questions that may be asked, and how they would affect the survey results.

"We all know that how you frame a question has a lot to do with the answers," says Commissioner Debra Shore.

She wants to see the survey questions before the study is conducted.

She's also concerned the study may be premature, saying that no one is suggesting that the waterways are suitable for an activity like swimming.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has recommended higher water quality standards for the CAWS, but those standards don't have anything to do with making the water safe for swimming, or what's referred to as primary contact.

"It may be premature to do the study about primary contact," Frisbie says.

The commissioners decided to defer action on paying for the study until a later date.