The Chicago Locks

Chicago Harbor Lock Illinois 60611

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> The Chicago Harbor Lock separates the Chicago River from Lake Michigan and is the fourth-busiest lock in the nation for commercial use and the second busiest in the nation for recreational use.

> Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lock was completed in 1938 by the Sanitary District of Chicago as a component of the project to reverse the flow of the Chicago River and is one of two entrances from the Great Lakes to the Chicago Area.

How a Lock Changed a City

The Chicago Harbor Lock was a key component of the city's way of saving the Chicago River - and the city as a whole. In 1936 the lock was designed as part of the project that reversed the flow of the Chicago River. Prior to the project, the river flowed into Lake Michigan, polluting the city's water source with city waste. The reversal of the river through a series of locks is hailed as one of the great engineering feats of the time. The American Society of Civil Engineers even named the system a "Civil Engineering Monument of the Millenium" in 1999. Although decades have passed since the reversal of the river the lock still serves an important environmental function. Today it separates Chicago's stormwater from Lake Michigan. In 1984, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over responsibility for maintaining and operating the lock. They operate it 24/7 in Chicago.

The lock is one of two entrances from the Great Lakes to the Chicago Area Waterway System, the other being the Thomas J. O'Brien Lock. In fact, in 2011 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers replaced parts of the hydraulic system to increase the efficiency of the lock. The changes they made were modeled after the Thomas J. O'Brien Lock.

The chamber is 600 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 22 feet deep and can accommodate up to 100 vessels at once. The lock requires 15 minutes to cycle through a typical water-level difference. The water level is controlled via gravity through partially opened lock gates.

Cover image source: Jessica Spengler, CC BY 2.0, no changes made.

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