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Quinn gives $10 million to clean Chicago River — will he dive in?

Gov. PQuinn Mayor Rahm Emanuel 2012  | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2012 | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 12, 2012 5:41PM

Get your swimsuits ready — Gov. Pat Quinn says it won’t be long before the Chicago River will be clean enough to swim in.

The governor on Thursday couldn’t contain his enthusiasm — and sounded like he was ready to dive right in — after announcing $10 million in state funding will be used to help disinfect discharges into the river.

On a picture-perfect Thursday, Quinn stood on the banks of the Chicago River beside Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and dreamed of a day when the Chicago River will be clean enough for swimming.

“Mayor Richard J. Daley once said many years ago that he wanted to be able to fish in the Chicago River at lunch time. We’re not ready yet. But we want to realize the dream of Richard J. Daley to make the Chicago River as clean as possible,” the governor said.

Quinn noted that former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller — who later became an actor and played Tarzan — decades ago won a race in the Chicago River after swimming from the mouth of Lake Michigan to Wolf Point.

“We’re gonna make sure this river is fishable and swimmable,” he said.

The money will be used to design and engineer technology upgrades to disinfect discharges into the river. Discharges from the North Side Water Reclamation Plant in Skokie will get “ultraviolet treatment with low-pressure, high-output lamps,” the governor’s office said. The Calumet Water Reclamation Plant will use a process known as “chlorination/dechlorination,” officials said.

Until now, Chicago has been the nation’s only major city that does not disinfect wastewater. Last year, President Barack Obama’s administration ordered the Metropolitan Water Reclamation to comply with the 40-year-old Clean Water Act.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has pegged the cost of treating sewage dumped into the river at $139 million.

“Construction will be completed in 2015 and disinfection will be in service for the 2016 recreational season. And maybe we can take that swim,” said David St. Pierre, executive director of the MWRD.

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