Protecting Water Quality on Chicago’s Southeast Side via Stormwater Wetlands at the IIPD

Aerial view of Harborside Marsh Pond, alongside Lake Calumet

Delta Institute is working with our long-term partner, the Illinois International Port District to assess and evaluate the placement and creation of two new wetlands that will capture stormwater on IIPD’s land–keeping pollutants from entering the Calumet River and traveling through dozens of downstream communities.


Why Our Work is Needed Today

The Southeast Side of Chicago has vibrant communities that have dealt with the impacts of long-term environmental injustice and economic disinvestment. We will collaborate to help change that fact.

According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s (CMAP) Community Snapshot data, 133,333 residents live downstream from the Illinois International Port District (IIPD) and the sites of the anticipated stormwater wetlands that we will plan for. These residents live in communities along the Calumet River/Little Calumet River between Lake Calumet to the Des Plaines river. This includes the City of Chicago neighborhoods of East Side, South Deering, and Hegewisch and the Cook County municipalities of Burnham, Dolton, Calumet Park, Blue Island, Robbins, Crestwood, Palos Heights, and Palos Park.  Of these residents, 40% identify as Black (Non-Hispanic) and 33% Hispanic or Latino (of Any Race) as reflected by CMAP Community Snapshot data for the above referenced communities.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality identifies Census tract 17031520100, the home of the Illinois International Port District (IIPD), as well as all adjacent census tracts and the majority of those located along the Calumet River as being disadvantaged because they meet several burden thresholds related to water and wastewater, climate change, legacy pollution, workforce development, and more. The IIPD is also centrally located to several nearby River Sites of Interest as identified by Chicago’s River Ecology and Governance Task Force: Calumet Harbor Sediment, 92nd and Ewing/Buffalo, the 100th Street Bridge LCR, and more. As part of this project, we will be convening a committee of residents to enhance community voices and conversation with the Port District in advancing the goals of the IIPD Master Plan.

Brief Overview of What We’re Doing

Delta Institute is undertaking a highly collaborative project with the IIPD, CMAP, and community stakeholder to improve water quality along the Calumet River while utilizing the Port of Chicago as an anchor institution. It’s our goal to drive local community engagement, site prioritization/selection, feasibility studies, and preliminary site designs for integrating Green Infrastructure across Chicago’s East Side over the next year.

Our efforts directly align with the IIPD’s planning. The IIPD seeks to modernize for beneficial economic, social and environmental outcomes. In order to carry out its vision for a world-class port, the IIPD has identified a series of projects and opportunities in its recently adopted Master Plan to pursue to improve infrastructure; grow industrial activity; create recreation opportunities; and plan for a more sustainable and productive Port. Our project will engage community members in the prioritization, siting, and impacts of stormwater treatment wetlands on IIPD property around Lake Calumet – beginning with feasibility studies and conservation-focused land-use. Delta has multi-year history working with IIPD (and is a continued collaborator both currently and into 2024+) and surrounding communities, which means that we have a deep bench of experience to draw upon for this project.

We will begin with the early organization of a stakeholder working group, composed of Lake Calumet and Calumet Region stakeholders at the local-, county-, and municipal-levels, as well as regional environmental, water, finance, and infrastructure professionals. We are aware of, and internalize the, local/regional context that requires deliberate, intentional stakeholder engagement related to our proposed scope. As such, Delta is coordinating with organizations and projects to align our proposed community and stakeholder engagement activities. It is paramount that all outreach is done in coordination with others who are present in the Calumet Region so that community members input is not fragmented between projects, and their time and expertise is used efficiently and effectively to align their priorities across the entire South and Southeast sides. We are collaborating with the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) and other local organizations who are experts of their neighborhoods, the Southeast Side of Chicago, and the Calumet Region.

Aerial view of Port land at the mouth of the Calumet River
Aerial view of Port land at the mouth of the Calumet River
Aerial view of Harborside Marsh Pond, alongside Lake Calumet
Aerial view of Lake Calumet with the Chicago skyline in the background

Our Goals

Our project will focus on planning stormwater wetlands on IIPD-managed/owned land adjacent to Lake Calumet—an identified River Site of Interest—and our impacted partners will be those located downstream from IIPD along the Calumet River (between Lake Calumet and the Des Plaines River) due to pollutant runoff, stormwater management, and overall water quality efforts that our work will address. We plan to advance several goals and objectives articulated in the IIPD’s Master Plan, including:

  • Coordinating with stakeholders on all restoration activities in the Lake Calumet area, including Square Marsh and Big Marsh;
  • Prioritizing environmental activities and sustainable development for all activities at the IIPD while promoting safety, security, economic growth, and jobs at the IIPD;
  • Advancing a feasibility study for treatment wetlands or other nature-based infrastructure within the Lake Calumet area to improve water quality form adjacent run-off;
  • Advancing wetland interventions to better accommodate incoming water from the northwest and northeast areas of Lake Calumet; and,
  • Launching an IIPD Resident Advisory Committee to facilitate discussion between Port Leadership and community-area residents and stakeholders regarding implementation of relevant Master Plan goals, strategies, and actions. We anticipate that this group will be comprised of 10-15 members, meeting at least quarterly. Delta Institute will provide IIPD with a template charter, procurement, and community/resident stipend policy documents conducive to long-term IIPD management.

Our Partners and Related Efforts

We are grateful to the Illinois International Port District for being a long-term partner in so many projects, efforts, and collaboration. Delta is also deeply appreciative to The Chicago Community Foundation, A Corporate Affiliate of the Chicago Community Trust, and the Great Rivers Chicago program for entrusting us to this important work to make our region’s rivers more productive, healthier, and vibrant for the many communities and neighborhoods that utilize and benefit from them.

Related to this project, Delta Institute has been partnering with the IIPD for several years to help advance the Port’s goals related to community engagement and sustainability; these efforts have been generously underwritten by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. As a result, Delta helped the IIPD secure millions in federal and state investment, as well as reach Green Marine Certification (and subsequent re-certifications), an environmental certification program that offers a comprehensive framework for maritime companies to benchmark and then reduce their environmental footprint. Delta Institute also supported the IIPD and CMAP in developing the Port’s Master Plan. Not only do these activities anchor the IIPD as a community asset toward reaching local environmental and economic goals, but they also demonstrate the ways in which multiple communities throughout the Southeast Side and along the Calumet River and Lake Calumet benefit from its work.

We also are working on the Southeast Side, and in collaboration with IIPD, on the creation of sustainable redevelopment guidelines that may be utilized both on the SE Side as well as in other Chicago neighborhoods. This serves as one of many projects that are operating through our multi-faceted relationship with this important anchor institution on Chicago’s Southeast Side.

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