The Chicago Area Waterway System-Transforming Chicago’s Physical Environment and Connecting Cultures and Communities, NTC+

The theme of this seminar is TRANSFORMATION. The location of cities and their patterns of growth are dependent in part on the characteristics of their physical environment. In this seminar we will broadly explore how Chicago’s physical environment – in particular Lake Michigan and the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) has been instrumental in transforming Chicago from a mudhole into a thriving commercial and cultural metropolis. The CAWS is a 130-mile network of natural and constructed rivers, canals, locks and other structures in Chicago and northwest Indiana. Constructed beginning in the 1890s, the CAWS system diverted water from Lake Michigan and created a connection across a low mid-continental divide to the Mississippi watershed. There are five connections between the CAWS and Lake Michigan, with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal ultimately connecting the system to the Illinois River and the Mississippi River watershed. The CAWS provides important benefits to the Chicago region, including convey­ing treated wastewater, supporting commercial shipping, managing flood water, and moving recreational boats and tour boats. However, CAWS is currently faced with significant challenges in these areas, including the influx of invasive Asian carp and other Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). We will discuss many important benefits that CAWS provides to Chicagoland. In addition we will discuss a recent proposal to physically separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins in the Chicago Area Waterway System to prevent the movement of Asian carp and other AIS. A customized reader containing excerpted chapters from various sources, including Richard Lanyon’s recently published book, Building the Canal to Save Chicago, will be distributed to seminar participants. In addition, we will spend time in Newberry’s map collections viewing vintage maps and photos depicting Chicago’s growth and development and subsequent transformation of its physical environment.