A new grant of nearly $1 million will improve several miles of streams for nearly 20 species of fish and create or enhance 10 acres of neighborhood green space in the Chicago-Calumet region, the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund announced this week.
Administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the fund is a public-private partnership working to restore the region’s waterways through infrastructure and habitat improvements. The Chicago and Calumet watersheds make up a highly engineered system of waterways that support commercial shipping, tourism and recreational boating, move treated wastewater away from urban centers and provide habitats for many wildlife species.
The $960,000 grant will go toward five projects to restore forest and savanna habitat along the east branch of the Little Calumet River, enhance public park space and access to natural areas at Wolf Lake, increase stormwater storage capacity in the greater Chicago area and remove barriers to fish passage in Mill Creek.
The last project involves reconnecting Mill Creek to the Cal-Sag Channel by removing two shelf structures that block fish passage, which will open up 2.5 miles of stream habitat to benefit more than 17 species of fish, according to Friends of the Chicago River.
Mill Creek runs through Palos Hills and Palos Park and connects with the Cal-Sag Channel, a 16-mile canal that links the Little Calumet River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The channel opened in 1922 to direct pollution away from Lake Michigan and toward the Illinois River, but it became so polluted from industry and other waste that even the most resilient of species (like sludge worms) could not survive.
On its website, Friends of the Chicago River said it was thrilled to receive funding to conduct the Mill Creek/Cal-Sag Channel project.
"Green space, wildlife habitat and stormwater management are essential to the vitality of our river systems – and to the health and safety of the communities around them," the organization says on its site.
According to NFWF, together the grant-funded projects will:
- Enhance 240 acres of savanna, riparian and upland habitat
- Improve 13,200 feet of in-stream habitat
- Create and improve more than 10 acres of neighborhood green space
- Add more than 550,000 square feet of stormwater infrastructure
The grants will also generate $1.46 million in matching contributions, for a total of $2.42 million in project funding, according to NFWF.
The latest round of grant funding includes contributions from steel giant Arcelor Mittal, BNSF Railway, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and several Chicago-area foundations.
Sept. 11: Grant funding will be used to restore wetlands and improve water flow at a 278-acre park that opened last year at a former industrial site on Chicago’s Southeast Side.
Aug. 24: Dozens of mallards have been found dead over the past month in multiple locations along the Chicago River, marking what one expert says is the largest occurrence of birds dying in the river in decades.
Feb. 23: The Chicago River is a lot cleaner than it used to be. And after years of litigation, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and environmental groups have agreed to a settlement and will work together to make the river even cleaner.