Raising Chicago: Make Way For Waste

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You may not have been aware that Chicago had a waste problem in the 1850s. Actually, Chicago was a sewer system pioneer for the Western World.

This story is not well known, as creative solutions are combined with existing technology to do the unthinkable.

Horse waste and garbage was an extraordinary amount of disease — something had to be done. A Cholera outbreak in 1854 caused an urgent improvement required for Chicago to become tolerable (at the very least).

It took one man to devise a plan to move not a house or a small shop. We’re talking about getting 600 men together to hoist 35000 sq ft. That is certainly no small feat.

Six engineers worked together to lead action to lift half of a block 4 ft. 8 in. (1.42m). With the help of 600 men and 6000 jack screws, this amazing feat was pulled off in five days.

Something Smells Fishy

Unfortunately, no one stopped to think about what would happen if the sewer output ran into the water source feed. All of the waste from the city was routed back into Lake Michigan. Brown water, fish, and whatever else landed back into people’s drinking water. There were no sanitation systems like we have today. Using a series of canal locks, Lake Chicago was reverse-engineered to flow south.

So Much Water

This is all great progress! But, after a huge flood in ’92, the City has another problem — flooding. After all of this time, Chicago never had water pumps or adequate drainage systems. At times, the City can see billions of gallons of water. Where do you put billions of gallons of excess rain water? You build a giant tunnel and 300 foot overflow system (Transitional Reservoir). If these marvels aren’t enough, the amount of water is really hard to conceptualize: 17.5 billion gallons of combined water throughout the sewage, tunnel, and the giant reservoir.