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Would You Jump Into The Cal-Sag -- River So Polluted It Needed An Exorcism?

By Justin Breen | August 16, 2016 5:44am | Updated on August 20, 2016 10:14am
 Water in the Cal-Sag Channel in Blue Island.
Water in the Cal-Sag Channel in Blue Island.
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Flickr Creative Commons/Metropolitan Planning Council

CHICAGO — Would you jump in water once so polluted, it was exorcised by a pastor?

Chicago's Josh Ellis will take the plunge — literally — as part of an Aug. 27 fundraiser that has participants leaping into the Cal-Sag Channel in suburban Blue Island. The event is to raise money for the Cal-Sag Trail, a halfway-finished recreational trail that will allow cyclists and runners to ride or run from Edgewater to Joliet.

RELATED: Bike Path Will Link Edgewater to Joliet, and Nearly All of It Is Off-Road

"I'm not sure I'm going to throw a quarter down to the bottom and jump in and try and get it, but I'll swim in it," said Ellis, of South Loop and a director at the Metropolitan Planning Council. "We're not putting our lives on the line here."

 The Rev. Rod Reinhart performed a “prayer of exorcism” at Cal-Sag Channel in 2012.
The Rev. Rod Reinhart performed a “prayer of exorcism” at Cal-Sag Channel in 2012.
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Flickr Creative Commons/BikinMom

Ellis said the Metropolitan Planning Council and Friends of the Chicago River on Wednesday morning will unveil the "Our Great Rivers" plan, which calls for Chicago-area waterways, including the Chicago River, Cal-Sag Channel and Calumet River to be fully swimable for humans by 2030.

"We've made great strides, particularly in the last few years, to make [the waterways] cleaner," Ellis said.

The Cal-Sag Channel, which connects the Little Calumet River to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, debuted in 1922 to alter pollution away from Lake Michigan and toward the Illinois River. From industry and other waste, the water became so polluted that even sludge worms — indicators for polluted, but livable water — could not survive.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District posts signs on the shoreline warning people not to drink, swim in or even touch the Cal-Sag Channel's water. It's so polluted that, four years ago, the Rev. Rod Reinhart performed a “prayer of exorcism,” which asked people to “exorcise and cast out the forces of ignorance, greed, lawlessness and cruelty that pollute and destroy our environment and desecrate our natural world," according to The Times of Northwest Indiana.

The Cal-Sag Channel has been cleaned immensely by a deep tunnel project that allows sewer overflow to flow into the Thornton quarry, Ellis said. Over the weekend, Ellis and about 200 others were in the Cal-Sag Channel as part of a Dragon Boat Festival.

"You wouldn't want to drink it, but you can get it on you," Ellis said, noting he's witnessed coyotes, deer, turtles, egrets, herons and other wildlife in or near the water, which is filled with fish like bass and bluegill.

Other channel jumpers on Aug. 27 include Metropolitan Water Reclamation District executive director David St. Pierre and Steve Buchtel, executive director of Trails for Illinois, a nonprofit with a mission to build a statewide trails community.

Buchtel, who's organizing the plunge, also says it purposes to "showcase the near-miraculous work by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to restore the ecology of this waterway, and make it safe enough to swim in."

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