By Adam Thorp
Jose Garcia has been fishing in Bubbly Creek for a decade. On a recent fall Sunday, the welder from Chicago Lawn pulled a fair-sized carp off one of the five fishing lines he’d set up on its banks.
On a good summer day, Garcia said, he could catch 10 to 15 carp from the waterway in Bridgeport and McKinley Park. “It’s not the cleanest place in the world, but what are you going to do?” he added.
That’s a question the Army Corps of Engineers has been trying to answer. Now, help finally may be on the way for the creek, whose foul history was memorialized in “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair’s expose on the Chicago meatpacking industry.
“It is constantly in motion, as if huge fish were feeding in it, or great leviathans disporting themselves in its depths,” Sinclair wrote of Bubbly Creek in his 1904 novel. “The creek looks like a bed of lava; chickens walk about on it, feeding, and many times an unwary stranger has started to stroll across, and vanished temporarily.”
The plan recommended in the draft study by the Corps would lay down a new, healthy creekbed above the rotting sediment. New plantings on the bottom of Bubbly Creek and along the riverbank would restore the base of the ecosystem and begin to improve water quality. Those plants, and woody debris spread in the creek, would provide habitats for returning animals.
There are other legal avenues to a cleaner Bubbly Creek according to Mark Templeton, a University of Chicago law professor. Templeton’s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic advocates for better water quality in Bubbly Creek and the rest of the Chicago River.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is considering renewing a permit that allows Chicago to continue unloading its sanitary sewers into the Chicago River. The new permit could demand stricter rules, Templeton said.
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