To the Editor:

In a sudden burst of interventionist energy, the Parks Department seems to be filling, for the first time since 2019, the so-called "boat basin" at Harold Washington Park. It is the only artificial water feature in a Chicago park, that I am aware of, that is allowed to remain in an unhealthy state for long periods and which is not maintained for cleanliness. 

The artificial pond/fountain has no filtration system. In most years by July, after a month of effort by several dozen geese, the pond becomes a stinking cesspool— quite literally. The fence-enclosed space then remains unused by any park visitors until after the pond is drained in the late fall. 

In 2014, the pond experienced an avian botulism outbreak, which killed a couple dozen geese, many ducks, an egret or two and a heron or two — just judging by carcasses that landed nearby and by the slow death dance of poisoned egrets. That incident was addressed in part by draining and cleaning the pond and then leaving it empty for the remainder of the year — which at the time we proposed be the annual approach.

In 2015, a nearby building on Shore Shore had a Legionnaires' Disease outbreak, with one reported death, and with no reported source tracked down. 

No private landowner would be allowed by the City inspectors to maintain an open cesspool or untreated lagoon in a residential neighborhood. 

In most years the pond is cleaned in the spring before filling and then in the fall after it is drained.  

In spring 2016, for unknown reasons, and for the first time in memory, the pond was not cleaned before it was filled with fresh water. The prior year’s left-over fecal matter was left in the pond, as was a large collection of Winter debris. Upon filling, instead of it taking the usual several months before the pond became disgusting, it only took one month. At that point, the pond was taken over by a large algal bloom, rendering it unfit for any use. 

In the fall of 2019, the basin was drained and partially cleaned, however, large piles of debris were left behind. I am writing to plead with the Parks Department to not fill the pond this Spring without first cleaning it thoroughly. Filling it without removing last year’s supply of fecal matter will only hasten the rate at which the area becomes too unhealthy for any use. 

Frankly, as we have proposed in the past, a better use of the space would be to admit that the Parks Department has neither the equipment in place nor staff to spare to maintain the "boat basin" and simply clean out the concrete pool and leave it empty for the season. Dog owners (and probably skateboarders) would greatly appreciate it and trust me, no one in the neighborhood would miss the king-sized Petri dish filled with goose poop. 

As several have remarked in the past, we all well know that only on the South Side would the Parks Department feel free to fill a City fountain without bothering to first clean out two years of debris and the existing fecal/algae matter.

Doyle O'Connor

(1) comment

Ross Petersen

At one time, a company 'Integrated Lakes Management' had a contract to monitor, maintain the boat basin. I imagine nobody is taking care of it, now. This is more of the different treatment afforded to Parks, North side versus South. Two children died of nagleria fowleri, from Washington Park's lagoons, some years back. Jackson Park's lagoons suffered a sewer leak. Raw sewage poured into the lagoons. I submit any body of water in Any South side park be avoided. The Park district has the responsibility to maintain them, and frankly, they don't.

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