Chicago Waterways Restoration Framework Plan

Chicago District
Published Jan. 9, 2024

Additional details can be found at

Project Description and Background

Chicago’s waterways are some of the most altered river systems in the Midwest; the system has experienced stream channel relocation, channelization, removal of riparian plant communities, total reversal of basin flow, reduction in ground water inflow, combined sewer overflows, erratic inflows of effluent from industry, and other degradation. In the past 20 years, ecological restoration and technological investments, combined with water quality improvements, have increased diversity of fishes, aquatic macroinvertebrates, and riparian habitat heterogeneity. This highly urbanized stream system will remain low in overall native aquatic habitat diversity unless restoration is pursued. Technological improvements have and will continue to improve the water quality of this system, but habitat restoration is necessary to sustain an improved level of diversity and abundance of aquatic organisms along the river corridor.

In April 2019, USACE received a request under the Planning Assistance to States authority to assist the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) in updating and expanding physical and social data on the inland waterways. Given the input from the River Ecology and Governance Task Force, DPD requested assistance in developing a comprehensive planning framework for the Chicago waterways. USACE and DPD invited the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC), and the Chicago Park District (CPD) to join the partnership, starting a robust collaboration to develop the Chicago Waterways Restoration Framework Plan.

Current Status

To view the Chicago Waterways Restoration Plan, click here: Chicago Waterways Restoration Framework Plan

To view the Chicago Waterways Potential Opportunity Sites, click here: Chicago Waterways Opportunity Sites

***The opportunity sites are included as supplemental materials to this report and are the output of collaboration between the PAS agency partners, other public agencies, and public stakeholders. These are potential opportunities for habitat restoration or recreation that the broad set of participants felt warranted future exploration. The sites listed range from initial ideas to well-developed concepts. Coordination with and regulation by appropriate Federal, State, and Municipal authorities are required for any opportunity sites to be implemented. Please note that inclusion on this list of opportunity sites does not indicate agency commitment or priority.***


The Chicago River Planning Assistance to States study produced a Chicago Waterways Restoration Framework Plan along with a GIS StoryMap through intentional planning and coordination across five agencies and input from multiple community stakeholders. This framework plan is a starting point to lay the groundwork for additional future planning and centers on opportunities along the Chicago Waterways for continued and future ecological restoration and recreation. The Chicago Waterways touch many Chicago communities and neighborhoods. The data collection process in coordination with the River Ecology Governance Task Force provided opportunities for the partner agencies to engage with community stakeholders regarding ideas to enhance sites and habitats along the Chicago Waterways. This final report and accompanying GIS StoryMap provide the reader with visual descriptions of the diverse opportunities for both restoration and recreation.

Project Authorization

Section 22(a)(1) of the Water Resources Development Act of 1974, as amended (42 U.S.C. 1962d-16), authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to cooperate with a state, a group of states, or a non-federal interest working with a state or group of states in the preparation of comprehensive plans for the development, utilization, and conservation of water and related resources of drainage basins, watershed, or ecosystems, including plans to comprehensively address water resources challenges. The USACE Planning Assistance to States (PAS) Program was set up to implement this authority.

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