The state committed $10 million Thursday toward cleaning up the Chicago River, a waterway with a high volume of wastewater from sewage treatment plants that Gov. Pat Quinn hopes can someday become suitable for swimming and fishing.
The money, which comes from a state capital fund, will go toward engineering and design costs for facilities at two treatment plants where water will be disinfected.
"We're taking a landmark step to disinfect sewage that's coming into the river," Quinn said at a news conference along the river with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "We're here to fight for clean water."
Environmental officials and advocates had long pressed the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to improve quality of the river which contains untreated wastewater from sewage treatment plants. Last year, the district finally agreed to a long-term plan to clean it up. The overall cost has been estimated at $240 million.
Quinn and Emanuel said a cleaner river could boost tourism in Chicago. Construction on the treatment facilities is slated to begin this year and projected to be ready for use by 2016.
"Getting it clean is essential for greater use," Emanuel said. He called the cleanup necessary for the Chicago River to "become part of the recreational landscape of the city" like Lake Michigan.
While boating and kayaking on the Chicago River is common, it has not been deemed swimmable. Advocates have said that disinfecting wastewater isn't a guarantee that it will become swimmable.
Last year, Emanuel announced the construction of four boathouses along the river in hopes of developing the city's "next recreational frontier." They will provide kayaking and concessions. Emanuel said two will be ready this year.