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Huge fish spurs call to 're-reverse' Chicago River

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago via AP

In this undated photo provided by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, work takes place on the building of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The Army Corps of Engineers is studying weather to separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds, which could include returning the Chicago River's original flow in an attempt to stop Asian carp and other invasive species from traveling through the two basins. The flow of the river into the lake was reversed in the late 1800's to prevent pollution from reaching Lake Michigan.

M. Spencer Green / AP

Asian bighead carp swims in an exhibit at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a report released Friday, March 25, 2011, says it might need to increase the voltage of the electric barrier at the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The report says small carp won't be completely stopped by the barrier unless the barrier uses more power. Asian carp have long been seen as a severe threat to the Great Lakes.

I am always fascinated by the ingenuity of engineers more than a hundred years ago.

As AP reported:

The city was in a predicament. By the late 1800s, the slow-moving Chicago River had become a cesspool of sewage and factory pollution oozing into Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for the bustling metropolis.

The waterway had grown so putrid that it raised fears of a disease outbreak and concerns about hurting development. So in a first-of-its-kind feat, engineers reversed the river by digging a series of canals that not only carried the stinking mess away from the lake, but also created the only shipping route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

Now a modern threat — a voracious fish that biologists are desperate to keep out of Lake Michigan — has spurred serious talk of undertaking another engineering feat almost as bold as the original: reversing the river again to restore its flow into the lake.

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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago via AP

In this undated photo provided by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago work takes place on the building of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The Army Corps of Engineers is studying weather to separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds, which could include returning the Chicago River's original flow in an attempt to stop Asian carp and other invasive species from traveling through the two basins. The flow of the river into the lake was reversed in the late 1800's to prevent pollution from reaching Lake Michigan.

M. Spencer Green / AP

A kayaker paddles along the Chicago River in Chicago. Illinois waterways have undergone dramatic improvement in recent decades, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says too much pollution still is overflowing from communities with antiquated sewer systems that route sewage and storm water through the same pipes.

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

A commercial fisherman throws a Common carp back into the southern branch of the Chicago River after a survey netting Monday, May 23 in Chicago. Federal and state officials outlined a series of projects Monday to pinpoint how far Asian carp have advanced toward the Great Lakes and remove as many as possible from a Chicago waterway that offers the nuisance fish a direct path to Lake Michigan.