Big News for the River

Numerous media outlets interviewed Margaret Frisbie (right) and Doug McConnell about the Chicago River Swim, including ABC 7 news.

The Chicago River made big headlines the week of April 1 with the announcement of the inaugural Chicago River Swim, scheduled for September 22, 2024, on the Main Stem of the river in downtown Chicago. The extraordinary open-water swim event is emblematic of all the hard work by Friends of the Chicago River and countless others to reclaim the river as a beautiful natural resource that is accessible, fun, and healthier than it has been in over 150 years.

Swim Organizer Doug McConnell called it a “Victory Lap” for Friends of the Chicago River.

The river swim news follows a major announcement by Friends on Monday that the Illinois EPA has issued the city of Chicago’s new sewer outfall permits after a multi-year collaboration between the City and Friends to reduce water pollution in the river and make it a safe haven for people and wildlife. The new and more stringent permit, known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, governs 184 city-owned outfalls that connect the city sewer system with the river (see story below for more details).

Chicago River Swim organizers said 500 qualified applicants will traverse the river amidst its famed skyscrapers and beneath its iconic bridges, in what promises to be an event akin to urban waterway reclamation efforts seen in Amsterdam, London, Paris, and New York City.

“Culturally, we have been working to change how people view the river,” said Friends’ Executive Director Margaret Frisbie to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a celebration of collaboration and persistence, and people recognizing that we need to protect our urban waterways.”

The USEPA approved the river for swimming 13 years ago after years of research and hearings through the Illinois Pollution Control Board. The last open-water swims in the Chicago River were held in the early 20th century, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Frisbie commented to ABC 7 news that “many people are aware of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan,” which is colloquially called Deep Tunnel. That has reduced the chances of sewage in the river, which is people's main concern, by 85%. And so today, on an average day it really is cleaner than it used to be and it is clean enough for swimming in most places.

The Chicago River Swim will monitor water quality constantly up to the morning of the swim. To determine the water quality, they will aim to leverage data from experts including the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and H2NOW, which is a real-time, seasonal water quality monitoring system administered by our partners at Current.

“The changes in the Chicago River over the past decades are nothing short of incredible,” remarked Doug McConnell, CEO/co-founder of the nonprofit A Long Swim who is also a Chicago native and world-renowned Triple Crown Swimmer. “What was once unimaginable is now possible. We are committed to conducting a safe event, backed by the latest in water quality technology and a thorough safety plan.”

The Chicago River will be closed to all commercial and recreational vessel traffic during the event which will start at 6:45 a.m. Swimmers will start between the Clark and Dearborn Street bridges and navigate a looped course between State Street on the east to Wolf Point on the west.

For more information, visit