What’s the water quality in your neck of the woods? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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What’s the water quality in your neck of the woods?

The Chicago Community Trust is currently funding eight community-led riverfront projects through their “Our Great Rivers” grant. This piece is part of our 2020-2021 blog series highlighting these projects

Image courtesy Current

Whether you’re fishing or kayaking, our rivers’ water quality can vary by day and hour, and by neighborhood or river branch, so real-time information is key. Here’s what you need to know about new water quality sensors in our region with first-in-the-nation technology.

Green spaces are more important now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. As Chicago works to slow the spread of COVID-19, many in the Chicago region are looking at riverfront activities—recreation or outdoor dining—to safely be outdoors this summer. H2NOW Chicago is an innovative water-monitoring pilot project that provides Chicago region residents, visitors, and outdoor water recreation enthusiasts with real-time water quality information to encourage safe, river-based activities.  

The project is led by Current, a non-profit whose mission is to grow and strengthen an inclusive blue economy, accelerate innovation in water technology, and solve pressing water challenges in the region and in the world. H2NOW counts on the support of numerous cross-sector partners including the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Chicago Department of Water Management, Friends of the Chicago River, World Business Chicago, Urban Rivers and technical providers such as Comcast.  

Water quality data used to take days. H2NOW Chicago aims to radically transform the process by creating the first real-time water quality monitoring project in the U.S. that measures microbial pollutants. This technology comes after years of riverfront advocacy and stewardship. H2NOW Chicago has the unique opportunity to provide new insights on water quality to increase recreational river-based activities by educating the public on river health in addition to informing policy advocacy, investment, and development decisions.  

Looking ahead 

Current recognizes that water health along the Chicago River varies. In order to have a comprehensive understanding of its water quality, water sensors have been placed on the North Branch, main stem, and South Branch. In early 2020, Current began water sampling at each of these three sites. However, due to COVID-19, water sampling was forced to pause. While plans to launch a public website with real-time water quality data were delayed, Current has shifted its focus during the past year to improving the project’s water testing and information technology and building an advisory group. Current recently launched their water-quality-data website, making it publicly accessible at the start of September 2021.  

Even with the many hurdles H2NOW Chicago has encountered, the project has not lost any steam. This fall, Current is launching a new education program called Blue EDU. During this virtual field trip down the Chicago River, high school students in Chicago will have the opportunity to learn about environmental stewardship, water careers, and H2NOW water quality data.

Whether you’re looking to catch and release fish by the Riverwalk or kayak in Ping Tom Park, having real-time information about water quality can help you plan a great and healthy day.   

Make sure to visit the H2NOW Chicago website for more information and updates on the projects.  


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