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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

Report obstructions and waterway pollution to MWRD Citizen Incident Reporting.

As summer winds down and boaters exit the Chicago River and local waterways, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) reminds visitors to the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) to report any debris left behind and potential blockages or pollution that threaten local water quality and navigation.

Waterway blockages, odors, water pollution, or other incidents can be reported to the MWRD by visiting and scrolling down to the Citizen Incident Reporting (CIR) system, or by calling (800) 332-3867. Incidents can also be reported on iOS devices by downloading the free CIR app from iTunes. 

The MWRD recently removed a boat that submerged into the North Branch of the Chicago River near the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. While boat removal is not an MWRD service, when it becomes debris or impedes navigation and the flow of water, the MWRD’s fleet of boat operators work hard to clear obstructions.

“The MWRD is happy to assist with removing debris to keep our waterways clean and navigable,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “If you see an obstruction or polluted waterway, we encourage you to contact us today.”

The MWRD controls 76 miles of navigable waterways, which are part of the inland waterway system connecting the Great Lakes with the Gulf of Mexico. The MWRD operates a 36-foot debris boat with a 25-foot by 50-foot barge for removing larger objects and two skimmer boats that collect floatable trash. In 2021, the MWRD recovered 1,682 cubic yards (CY) of river and canal debris, including 182 CY of debris collected by skimmer boat crews. The debris is taken to MWRD dumpsters set along the waterways at various locations.

Waterway blockages can also cause overbank flooding and disrupt the natural flow of water. That’s why under the MWRD’s Cook County Stormwater Management Plan, the MWRD also enlists a Small Streams Maintenance Program (SSMP) that relieves flooding in urbanized areas. The SSMP also removes obstructions and debris in the waterways that impede the drainage of small streams and rivers. The SSMP promotes clean water and reduces flooding by removing these downed trees or low hanging branches, dense weeds, invasive plants and addresses eroding stream banks. Since 2007, the SSMP crews have removed close to 400,000 CY of materials, including 16,893 CY in 2021.

If a dump or spill into a sewer or Chicago area waterway is reported, the MWRD dispatcher refers it to the MWRD’s Industrial Waste Division, and an MWRD pollution control officer launches an investigation. The officers strive to complete their investigation within five business days. Some cases may be open longer due to the nature of the event and the involvement of other agencies. Depending upon the circumstances, services may be needed from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Protecting the Chicago River system is a team effort,” said MWRD Commissioner Cam Davis. “The District’s dedicated staff work through the Small Stream Program and use debris skimmer boats to complement citizen cleanups. We all have an important role.”


Press Release
Awards and Announcements

Established in 1889, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is an award-winning, special purpose government agency responsible for wastewater treatment and stormwater management in Cook County, Illinois.


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