Chicago River water quality now updated online in real-time

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago River. We all know the story: its flow was reversed at the turn of the 20th century to keep sewage from flowing into Lake Michigan drinking water. Problem solved, right? Well not quite. So where does it stand now?

A new tool, H2Now, provides knowledge about the fecal content of the Chicago River for folks who want to spend some time on it. And yes, you heard that right.

"Why do we care about poop in the river? It's not because it's actually inherently hazardous to people," said Alaina Harkness, executive director of Current. "It's because it's often an indicator of other bacteria and viruses in the river that we might be more concerned about. And so that's why we're testing this novel sensor."

The truth is, this isn't something unique to just the Chicago River. Fecal coliform is put into every river by both animals and humans, and occasionally worsened by severe weather events.

"Extreme rain events can lead to something called combine sewer overflows," Harkness explained. "When those happen, there's actually sewage that goes into the river. When that happens, you do want to exercise high caution and stay away from the river for a period of a couple days until things settle down."

In the past, data would have to be sent out to a lab. And in the meantime, even just a stray rain storm could completely change the water safety level. These sensors provide a whole different approach to monitoring the river.
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"What we need to be concerned about is, the climate future that's ahead of Chicago means more wet weather and more intense rainstorms," Harkness said. "So our concern is really that the trajectory of those improvements might change, and we want to know what's happening in the river in real-time so we can stay ahead of that."

It's easy to check out on h2nowchicago.org. The website will shows you a value no older than 15 minutes.
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