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3 Days Before It's Dyed Green, Chicago River Looking Trashier Than Usual

By David Matthews | March 9, 2016 2:59pm | Updated on March 9, 2016 5:04pm
 There's piles of garbage floating near the mouth of the Chicago River. 
Floating Garbage in the Chicago River
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CHICAGO RIVERWALK — The Chicago River is never very clean, but now there's literally floating garbage resting upon its waters. 

Those who walked or ran along the Chicago Riverwalk on Wednesday were greeted by piles of trash floating near the mouth of the city's main tributary. The garbage, whose origin is unknown, is clustered on the south bank of the river near Lake Shore Drive. 

"It's kinda gross," said Logan Square resident Stephanie Mater, 26, who was passing by mid-day. 

Indeed. [DNAinfo/David Matthews]

It's the latest chapter in the sordid history of the river, whose flow was famously reversed a century ago to keep sewage out of the city's water supply: Lake Michigan. The Dave Matthews Band infamously dumped human waste off the Kinzie Street bridge a decade ago, and more recently, torrential rains caused rust plumes to color a part of the river near Michigan Avenue brown

Last year, the Tribune reported that the levels of bacteria in the river "routinely" exceed state standards for recreational waterways, and germs spike during storms that wash debris into the river.

The garbage clustered in the river Wednesday is miscellaneous, ranging from beer bottles and driftwood to an orange balloon. 

It's "unusual" for such a large amount of garbage to be clustered in such a specific area, said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of the Friends of the Chicago River advocacy group. Usually, river garbage comes from a variety of sources including sewers and nearby garbage cans. Given this week's calm weather it's unlikely the garbage ran out of a sewer pipe or flew out of a trash can, Frisbie said. She advised concerned citizens call the city's 311 service to report the debris.

The trash arrives as the city prepares to dye the river green Saturday in honor of St. Patrick's Day. The second season of the revamped Riverwalk is also coming up, bringing restaurants and entertainment to the south bank of the river

Shelia Porter, a spokeswoman for Cook County's Metropolitan Water Reclamation District that operates the boats that skim the river for debris, said that the district typically waits until April to clean the river, but will be out Thursday to clear the garbage reported today. 

"Much of the garbage we are seeing is wind-blown litter that lands in the river from surrounding areas – cups, bags and wrappers," Porter said in an e-mail. She added that people can report garbage in the river by calling 1-800-332-DUMP (3867).

Cy Rangel of Muncie, Ind., who was also passing by the garbage Wednesday, saw a silver lining in the floating trash.

"I like to think it's left over from the winter, and we've got to give the city some time to clean it up," he said. "Typically Chicago is cleaner than other cities." 

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