Civil and Environmental Engineering - Master Calendar

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Metro Chicago’s Water Systems - Sustainable Water Resources for the Future

Event Type
Water Resources Science and Engineering - CEE
1017 Civil and Environmental Engineering Building (Hydrosystems)
Apr 19, 2024   12:00 pm  
Richard "Dick" Lanyon - Executive Director (Retired) - Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Jennifer Bishop
Originating Calendar
Water Resources Engineering and Science Seminars

Rapid urban growth of Chicago after incorporation as a city in 1837, gave rise to cholera epidemics aggravated by poor drainage and unreliable drinking water quality. Muddy streets and cesspools were the way of life until an innovative sewer system was installed beginning in 1856. Lacking effective technology to treat large quantities of sewage, the river became grossly polluted, threatening the water supply, Lake Michigan. Several schemes to deal with the pollution through trial and error failed, until a massive flood caused the creation of the Sanitary District of Chicago in 1889. Construction of a long canal, surmounting the subcontinental divide, allowed the polluted river to flow away by gravity to the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers by 1900. Using Lake Michigan water for dilution was practiced until replaced by construction of sewage collection and treatment infrastructure by 1930. The 1972 Clean Water Act’s requirement to end combined sewer overflow was met with construction of a huge tunnel and reservoir system to capture and treat all overflow. Initial opposition to the diversion of Lake Michigan water was resolved through litigation, protecting the lake, providing water for navigation on the Illinois Waterway, and providing safe drinking water for Northeast Illinois.

Richard "Dick" Lanyon retired from his position as Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) at the close of 2010, a position that he held for 4-1/2 years. As Executive Director, he directed the day-to-day operations of the MWRD, which included 2,100 employees serving five million people in Cook County and the industrial waste load equivalent of another four million people. The MWRD provides wastewater and stormwater management and other related services to protect the environment. Dick’s career at the MWRD spanned nearly 48 years.

Dick has published several books detailing the history of the engineered drainage system in metropolitan Chicago and history of the engineered MWRD infrastructure including: Building the Canal to Save Chicago, Draining Chicago: The Early Years and the North Area, West by Southwest to Stickney, Draining the Central Area of Chicago and Exorcising Clout, and Calumet: First and Forever: Draining the South Area of Chicago and Territorial Expansion.

Dick has received numerous awards including the American Society of Civil Engineer’s National Government Civil Engineer of the Year Award in 1999; Distinguished Alumnus of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 2003; Edward J. Cleary Award from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists in 2011; and Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) in 2011. He is also a past President of the Illinois Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers and holds Bachelor and Master of Civil Engineering degrees from the UIUC. In 2013, Dick was inducted into the NACWA Hall of Fame.

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