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Dam changes in Chicago: Dam removal, river recreation, and river governance

Authors: Alex Peimer*, Northeastern Illinois University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: dam removal, river recreation, river governance, river restoration, hazard management
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this talk I will present preliminary findings and future research directions in a multi-method study of river recreation governance and management on the Chicago River system. In July 2018, surrounded by cameras and black-crowned night herons, V3 construction began demolition of Chicago's "last waterfall”. The project - authorized through WRDA Section 506 and funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Chicago Park District, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District - is over two decades in the making. While the purpose of the dam removal and riparian corridor restoration is to enhance Great Lakes fisheries connectivity and biodiversity, public responses have been varied and a diversity of environmental narratives are being circulated to explain project outcomes. More than ecogeomorphic change, the project also represents a socio-political shift in river use and management in Chicago. The Chicago Park District, Friends of the Chicago River, and neighborhood civic organizations have used the project to promote increased public use of the river system. At the scale of the City, former Mayor Emanuel issued an executive order that convened stakeholders to coordinate and guide river restoration and riparian corridor development on river segments city-wide. I will report on preliminary participatory observation, interviews with river managers and users and document review of river governance policies across the Chicago River system. I will conclude with ongoing research goals and situate this work within broader work on river governance, dam removal and river restoration, and river recreation.

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