April 20, 1883 – The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that the dam that separates the Des Plaines River from the Ogden ditch has broken and that “The pumps on the South Branch of the river at Bridgeport, erected at a heavy cost by the city in order to transfer the foul water of the river to the canal, will, it is feared, have their usefulness considerably impaired by a condition of affairs which is daily growing more serious.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, April 20, 1883] This is bad news for Chicago, which has kept the river flowing, to a greater or lesser degree, into the Illinois and Michigan Canal for close to 20 years, thus sending the city’s sewage westward and away from the lake. If the Des Plaines is allowed to flow at peak times into the Ogden ditch, engineered by William Butler Ogden and John Wentworth and a dozen other landowners in order to drain their property near Mud Lake, then the direction of the Chicago River will be compromised and potential disaster will lurk. At the time of the paper’s report “the water [of the Des Plaines] now sweeps freely into the ditch through an aperture twenty or thirty feet wide.”
April 20, 1900 -- Just three months after the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal opened, the project that was to end all of Chicago's river troubles . . . BAD NEWS. Marine interests pressure the Chicago Sanitary District to order the controlling works in Lockport to be shut down on this date. The depth of the river has dropped so low that at least 20 big ships are unable to make it over the roof of the Washington Boulevard tunnel, and grain shippers are impatient at the delay in getting cargo in and out of the city. In a neat job of parrying criticism, the head of the drainage board says, "The problem with the lake Captains is that they load their vessels too heavily. They often load down to seventeen and eighteen feet draft when they know there is only seventeen feet of water in the river." On top of everything else the tow line between a tug and the steamer Panther snaps, and the ship slams into the steamer Parnell at the Wells Street dock. The photo above shows the controlling works in Lockport, a city that got its name because of the lock located there on the original 1848 Illinois and Michigan Canal.