I can’t tell you how heartened I was to read in this article [“They Need It. We Waste It,” January 13] about people in addition to myself who seriously want the Chicago River to be restored to its natural direction and South Branch headwaters! I’ve always thought this “engineering feat” of reversal was an abomination, but this is what the dominant culture does.
There really was never any inherent need for the reversal. Even before germ theory, people had a foggy idea that you shouldn’t go to the bathroom near your drinking water, and if you had wells, not to place the latrines too close, etc. Parks which allow backcountry latrine pits dug by backpackers have explicit rules for their placement to protect water supplies. The need to properly distribute outhouses could have been used as one upper limit to density to prevent overcrowding of buildings. Wasn’t. Even now, there’s no need for us to use water for toilets. There are many types of both composting and incineration toilets available.
That leaves gray water. Who knows what innovations are possible for buildings without enough land for garden application?
Street runoff is a problem for every built-up area, but it doesn’t require changing the course of any river. There must be many places where permeable pavers could be used to reduce the water flow. The Deep Tunnel is a major impediment to the restoration of the natural hydrology of the Chicago River. It represents our refusal to get up on higher ground to avoid floods. So the engineers lower the base level. We’ve got to get the buildings up out of the floodplains.