711.4216 M 58/97

The Secretary of State to the British Ambassador (Howard)

Excellency: In your note No. 91 of February 5, 1926, relating to the diversion of water from Lake Michigan by the Sanitary District of Chicago, reference was made, among other matters, to the failure on the part of this Government to state in its note of November 24 last the considerations which convinced the Secretary of War that the whole of the amount of the withdrawal of water authorized by the permit which he issued on March 3, 1925, to the Sanitary District, is essential to the protection of the life and health of the citizens of the locality and to the apprehension of the Canadian Government that measures under consideration by Congress relating to the construction of an Illinois and Mississippi waterway are based upon or depend on the indefinite continuance of the abstraction of [Page 586] water of the Great Lakes through the Chicago drainage canal at the present rate of diversion or even upon the increase to 10,000 cubic feet per second of the amount abstracted. You also stated that the Government of Canada would appreciate any statement which this Government might find it possible to make as to the progress which has been attained by the Sanitary District and by the Municipality of Chicago in the provision of measures called for by the conditions of the permit of March 3, 1925, which will actually diminish the abstraction from the Great Lakes.

In the Embassy’s undated note No. 299 received by the Department on May 1, 1926, reference again was made to the project before Congress for the construction of an Illinois-Mississippi waterway and it was stated that the discussion by the United States and Canada of all outstanding waterways problems would be seriously complicated were the abstraction at Chicago confirmed by a legislative enactment by Congress which would recognize diversions for navigation purposes.

With reference to the diversion limits, I may state that the investigations made by the War Department showed that those prescribed were the least consistent with due regard to the health of the large population affected by the matter. The material reduction in flow through the Sanitary Canal in 1925, when it averaged about 8,250 cubic feet per second, caused by low lake levels, developed dangerous sanitary conditions, and has conclusively shown that reduction below the amount named in the permit, cannot safely be required until the sewage treatment plants in the course of construction by the city, are further advanced. The authorizing of an instantaneous maximum not to exceed 11,000 cubic feet per second was due to the fact that at times the flood discharge of the Chicago River is as high as 10,000 cubic feet per second and that the flow through the canal should then be large enough to produce a slope characteristic of a flood of that volume. Otherwise, the sewage carried by the river will be swept into the lake and pollute the city water supply. The supply is not filtered, and such pollution would be so extensive that it could not be counteracted by chemical treatment.

The permit issued by the Secretary of War provides for the installation of controlling works to prevent such flood discharges into the lake but the execution of the complete program required by the permit will be very costly, and it is felt that the installation of sewage disposal plants should have first attention in order sooner to reduce diversion. For these reasons, the paragraph of the permit relating to the controlling works does not require the installation of these works until 1929. Preliminary investigations concerning the installation have been made and it is expected that detailed plans [Page 587] will be prepared during the ensuing year. No difficulty in the completion of these works prior to the expiration of the permit is anticipated.

In connection with the question of progress made toward the reduction of diversion, I may state that the permit of March 3, 1925, assigned supervision of the program for installing sewage treatment works to the District Engineer at Chicago. He has recently reported that the progress made by the city in carrying out the program is satisfactory. It is understood that the schedule of expenditures adopted for this purpose by Chicago is as follows:

1925 $17,789,000
1926 12,733,000
1927 9,379,000
1928 10,215,000
1929 1,370,000

The average sanitary flow through the drainage canal in 1925, after the deduction of about 1,277 cubic feet per second used by the city of Chicago for domestic purposes, was about 7,000 cubic feet per second. The installation of water meters was provided for by appropriations made by the City Council in January of this year, and consequently it may be expected that in the near future there will be a reduction in the consumption of water used for domestic purposes.

The Bill “Authorizing the construction, repair, and preservation of certain public works on rivers and harbors, and for other purposes” containing a provision authorizing the improvement of the Illinois River, was not enacted into law during the session of Congress which recently closed. It is understood that the Bill will be taken up for consideration shortly after the next session of Congress convenes in December.

While this Government is glad to give the Canadian Government the factual information requested by Your Excellency, it is not prepared to admit the conclusions stated in Your Excellency’s notes of February 5, 1926 and May 1, 19267 as to the legal status of the withdrawal of waters from Lake Michigan. It does not, however, deem it necessary to enter into a discussion of this phase of the question at the present time.

The United States is prepared to discuss, as suggested in Your Excellency’s note of May 1, 1926, the outstanding questions affecting the Great Lakes and their waterways with a view to arriving at joint engineering solutions of those questions and the protection and development of great waterway resources for the mutual benefit of both countries.

Accept [etc.]

Frank B. Kellogg
  1. See undated note No. 299, p. 584.