Press Releases

For Immediate Release - Study Finds That Clean Chicago River Can Be Multi-Billion Dollar Economic Engine for Chicago Region

May 9, 2013

Brandon Hayes, Openlands 312-863-6260 /
Margaret Frisbie, Friends of the Chicago River, 312-939-0490 x 22 /


***Investment In Chicago River Can Create 52,400 Construction Jobs and Over 800 Permanent Jobs***

(Chicago – May 9, 2013) A study released today finds that a clean Chicago River has the potential to be a multi-billion dollar economic driver for Chicago and the surrounding region. Our Liquid Asset: The Economic Benefits of a Clean Chicago River—commissioned by Friends of the Chicago River and Openlands and executed by Cardno ENTRIX—further concludes that capital investment in the river system will generate tens of thousands of jobs. In its findings, the study considers investment in previous, planned, and proposed projects. The findings underscore the economic value—supporting the local economy and improving quality of life—of continued investment into improving the Chicago River. The report’s major findings are outlined below.

“Investing in the Chicago River is good for the river and good for the region,” said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River. “It improves quality of life, makes the river healthier for people and wildlife, and provides substantial economic benefits that are just starting to be recognized. We have a tremendous opportunity here.”

“A natural resource like the Chicago River is often viewed as something to spend money on rather than something that provides a financial return, but this study demonstrates that the river can provide jobs in addition to recreational opportunities,” said Lenore Beyer-Clow, policy director at Openlands. “The Chicago River is both a tremendously important way for Chicagoans to connect with nature and potentially powerful job provider in this time of high unemployment.”

“Not only is further investment in the Chicago River good for water quality, it is also insurance against devastating, costly floods like those we suffered this spring by drawing attention to the need for comprehensive and regional green infrastructure planning,” said Geoff Deigan of WRD Environmental. 

Major findings of Our Liquid Asset: The Economic Benefits of a Clean Chicago River

  • A clean, accessible Chicago River is good for our economy: Investing in clean water technologies like the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), sewage effluent disinfection, green infrastructure, public parks, and other riverfront amenities generates business income, individual income, tax revenue, and jobs.
  • Each dollar invested provides a 70% return through business revenue, tax revenue, and income while creating 52,400 construction jobs and 846 permanent operations and maintenance jobs:  Completed, planned, and proposed construction results in nearly $8 billion in business revenue, including $244 million in tax revenue, $4 billion in income and related construction jobs. Operations and maintenance will generate $130 million in business revenues, which also includes $6 million in taxes, $81 million in income and associated jobs, all of which will continue to accumulate annually.
  • Finishing the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan sooner will reduce flood damage faster: Since the first TARP reservoir went on line in 1998, regionally we have avoided $250 million in flood damage. Finishing the construction of the Thornton and McCook reservoirs will provide an additional savings of $130 million per year.
  • Removing stormwater through green infrastructure saves money: Urbandevelopment and engineering decisions often direct clean rain water into pipes directed to our sewage treatment plants where we pay for its treatment. Executing a regional green infrastructure plan would reduce the load.
  • New parks and public amenities increase property value and quality of life: The City of Chicago and Chicago Park District have invested millions in land acquisition, improvement, and access which has already brought thousands of people to the river. Those investments, coupled with future planned projects, will provide more and better public access, new jobs and associated revenues, and an important tourist attraction with the emerging Chicago Riverwalk.
  • People want the Chicago River to be part of their lives: Ninety-five percent of stakeholders surveyed indicated that the river has a positive effect on their quality of life, including important characteristics such as the quality of available water-based recreation opportunities and the scenic value of the river as a real estate amenity. This demonstrates that improvements to the Chicago River can provide significant value to people in addition to supporting jobs, business revenues, incomes and tax revenues.

The Steering Committee for Our Liquid Asset: The Economic Benefits of a Clean Chicago River includes Rita Athas, President, World Business Chicago; Reggie Greenwood, Director of Economic Development, South Suburban Mayors and Managers; Chris Kennedy, Chairman of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, Inc.; Aaron Koch, Deputy Commissioner for Sustainability, Chicago Department of Water Management; Pete Mulvaney, Sustainability Specialist, SOM; Joe Schweiterman, Director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University; David St. Pierre, Executive Director, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago; Rob Sulski, former Water Pollution Programs Manager, Illinois EPA; Dave Wethingon, Project Manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Marcia Willhite, Chief, Water Division, Illinois EPA.

Founded in 1979, Friends of the Chicago River is the only organization solely dedicated to the improvement and protection of the Chicago River. Friends’ award-winning education and outreach programs, public policy and planning efforts, and on-the-ground projects have laid the foundation for the river to become one of world’s greatest metropolitan rivers. Learn more at

Founded in 1963, Openlands is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful metropolitan conservation organizations, having helped secure, protect, and provide public access to more than 55,000 acres of land for parks, forest preserves, land and water greenway corridors, and urban gardens. Learn more at

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