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Water Supply
Chicago Lake Tunnel
Chicago River Reversal

Reversal of the Chicago River

The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Digging Techniques

Centuries of Civil Engineering

Hill, Charles Shattuck (C.E.)
The Chicago Main Drainage Channel: A description of the machinery used and methods of work adopted in excavating the 28-mile drainage canal from Chicago to Lockport, Ill.
New York: The Engineering News Publishing Co., 1896.
Water Supply
Image Index

The monumental feat of reversing the flow of the Chicago River, so that it now flows from Lake Michigan into the Mississippi, involved not only canal building, but also river dredging and bridge and road building. The final 15 miles were dug through rock with the help of dynamite and steam shovels mounted on rails in the trench to remove the debris. This digging technique was adopted a few years later in the Panama Canal dig.

Extensive dredging of the Chicago River was also required in order to reverse its flow. When the canal's gates were opened at Lockport in January 1900, the river changed its direction as planned and sewage stopped flowing into Lake Michigan. Dilution and natural biological processes were adequate to render the sewage harmless to downstream communities until the 1920s, when treatment plants were constructed. The Sanitary and Ship Canal continues to carry drainage and barge traffic, operating as originally conceived.


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