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Charming as that green river on St. Pat’s Day may be, Chicago should be environmentally smarter

Was dyeing the Chicago River green ever “normal” to begin with?

The Chicago River was dyed green on Saturday, ahead of St. Patrick’s Day. Mayor Lori Lightfoot reversed an earlier decision not to tint the river for second year because of the pandemic.
AP Photos

For many Chicagoans, the revival this week of the nearly 60-year-old tradition of Plumbers Union Local 130 dyeing the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day — a surprise event after it first was canceled by the city — was a welcome sign that things are returning to normal.

However, was dyeing the river green ever “normal” to begin with?

When this tradition began in 1962, the Chicago River, after a century of horrific environmental abuse, was thought of as more a quasi-sewer than a living river. By the late 1970s, fewer than seven species of fish could be found in the river. Who could possibly mind a little green dye?

Today, however, the river is making a comeback. Thanks to smart policy decisions, such as dam removal and habitat restoration, wildlife is beginning to flourish. The river is home to more than 75 species of fish, as well as beavers, turtles and other wildlife. It is also a tourist destination for walkers, joggers, diners and kayakers. The river is becoming again what it once was — the life-giving centerpiece of the Chicago region’s ecosystem.

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Regardless of whether the green dye is harmless — and we honestly don’t know, because the ingredients of the dye are a closely guarded secret — it’s time to rethink how the Chicago River is being treated. It’s time to start seeing it for what it truly is — a wondrous natural resource as worthy as Lake Michigan of being improved, protected and respected.

In 1900, city leaders reversed the flow of the river away from Lake Michigan to protect Chicago’s drinking water. More recently, enlightened environmental practices have made great progress in cleaning up the river. Let’s use it as the catalyst to finish the job.

Let’s resolve to work together — Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Plumbers Union Local 130 and Chicago’s entire civic community — to create a new St. Patrick’s Day tradition, one that honors both the Chicago River and the proud Irish heritage of many of the Chicagoans who helped build our city.

Margaret Frisbie, executive director, Friends of the Chicago River
Gerald W. Adelmann, president & CEO, Openlands
Jack Darin, chapter director, Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter

Remember: Biden’s victory was narrow

We all need to stop saying inaccurately that Democrats won the past election by 7 million votes, as Don Rose wrote in a guest column on Tuesday. There is no such thing as a national popular vote contest in the United States. Joe Biden won the presidential election by 42,918 votes in the three closest states, putting him over the top. Those states were Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia. This was a narrower victory than the 77,000 votes in the three closest states that gave the election to Donald Trump in 2016.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, by contrast, won all but five states in 1932.

If the extremely thin margin of Biden’s “amazing” victory isn’t kept in mind, it may turn out to be a one-and-done.

Kevin Coughlin, Evanston