Keep working to transform the Chicago River’s South Branch

When it comes to protecting the city’s waterways, the Chicago River has gotten the short shrift compared to Lake Michigan.

But we know better, now, fortunately. These days, the main branch boasts the spectacular Riverwalk, and access to the naturalist North Branch has improved.

So it’s another good sign to see $1 million in new federal funding directed toward habitat restoration along the oft-neglected South Branch, particularly its notorious Bubbly Creek.

Located on the branch’s South Fork beginning near 38th and Racine, the waterway earned its nickname because gases from tons of decomposing animal carcasses dumped there from the nearby Union Stockyards — which closed in 1971 — bubbled to the surface for decades.

“For more than 100 years, this area was a dumping ground for animal waste, industrial waste, and sewage from the adjacent Union Stockyards and related industries,” said Sen. RichardDurbin, D-Ill., who secured the funding, said in an announcement last month.

“The $1 million earmark funding I secured is an important step forward in restoring the South Branch of the Chicago River and I will continue to work with federal and non-federal partners to make Bubbly Creek safer and more sustainable for generations to come,” he said.

‘Healthy, thriving waterway’

Under the effort, the Shedd Aquarium, the Chicago Park District and community organizations will work together to put back native prairie plantings and wetlands.

Green space and wildlife habitats would increase along this area of the river, according to Durbin’s office. Better natural stormwater retention and flood control retention are also among the project’s aims.

“The significance of healthy, thriving waterways cannot be understated, as they play a contributing role in our physical health, our mental and emotional well-being, the state of our economy andour individual connection with nature,”said Shedd Aquarium CEO and President Bridget Coughlin.

The funding will help researchers track fish populations and improve areas where fish breed.

Here’s another bonus: A portion of the grant will be used to employ and teach community members about river conservation.

The program joins other efforts and advocacy work, including the South Branch Corridor Project by Friends of the Chicago River, which envisions more open space, boat launches and other amenities along the waterway.

Advocates have long seen the Chicago River as the city’s second lakefront. We’re not quite there yet, but efforts like these will help our city get there.

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