Conservationists make waves about dying river Cubbie blue

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Do you have this in blue? Friends of the Chicago River hope not; they don’t like the idea of dyeing the river Cubs blue to celebrate the World Series win. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to celebrate the Cubs first World Series championship since 1908 in spectacular fashion — by dyeing the Chicago River Cubbie blue — but conservationists are making waves.

Friends of the Chicago River doesn’t like the idea any more than it likes the decades-old, annual tradition of dyeing the river green for St. Patrick’s Day.

In fact, Executive Director Margaret Frisbie argues that dyeing the river blue for the Cubs would be worse. That’s because it would set a dangerous precedent at a time when the Chicago River is a “living natural resource alive with fish and other wildlife.”

“What has happened to the river in the past was worse than dyeing it green once a year. The river used to be very polluted. When you’re looking at how to improve the river, it was much more important to focus on big problems like combined sewer overflows and making sure discharges to the river were clean,” Frisbie said Thursday.

“But now, the river is much healthier. And we do not want to set a precedent where, every time we want to celebrate, we dye the river a different color and potentially hurt the aquatic life that lives in it. While it may seem festive, it’s actually potentially harming a natural resource.”

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed has reported that the Chicago River would be dyed Cubbie blue to celebrate the end of the longest drought in the history of professional sports.

On Thursday, Emanuel confirmed he is the prime mover behind those ongoing discussions. But it’s not a sure thing.

“I want to do a lot, but I’m not allowed to talk about it,” said the mayor, who talks often about turning the Chicago River into the city’s next “recreational frontier.”

“I don’t know the answer. We’re working through it right now. I know that’s the desire by a lot of people. And there’s a desire by one person. But, it may not work. So, I’m not gonna get out [over] my ski tips, as I just did ten seconds ago.”

The tradition of dyeing the river green on St. Patrick’s Day dates back more than 50 years — to the inception of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“The green comes from something plumbers use as a trace dye. It’s orange when it’s dry. It turns green when it gets wet. Plumbers use it to trace leaks. It’s been tested,” Frisbie said.

“I don’t know if there’s a magic blue dye that would turn the river blue and not be unhealthy. I don’t know what the impact would be on aquatic life or people who recreate on the river.”

That doesn’t mean Friends of the River is dead-set against blue, but looking the other way when it comes to dying the river green.

Frisbie said she’s been “talking to people behind the scenes” about getting rid of the green dye tradition, too.

“The river quality has been steadily improving. It’s now healthy enough to consider things like St. Patrick’s Day,” she said.

“Tradition can evolve. Now that the river is much cleaner, perhaps instead of dyeing it green, we could float giant ice shamrocks that melt away and celebrate in a whole new way.”

Kim Biggs of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said the city has not yet applied for a permit to dye the river blue and doesn’t need one, so long as they use a “natural food dye” similar to the one used on St. Patrick’s Day.

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