Every year on March 17th, the city of Chicago uses dye to color the Chicago River a bright, glittering, emerald green. The resemblance to the glowing nuclear waste in old comic books and cartoons is uncanny. This odd tradition has prevailed since about the early 1960’s, beginning with a yearly dyeing to investigate illegal dumping in the river. Eventually, this became a spectacle solely observed on the greenest day of the year — St. Patrick’s Day.
But in the early days of Michigan State, you didn’t need to travel 240 miles to see a green river. Before the Clean Water Act came into effect, the Red Cedar became so severely polluted from runoff that the species living within the river struggled to adapt. It became infamous to students as being dirty, mucky, and an eyesore.
Since the Clean Water Act became amended in 1972, the State of Michigan, the city of East Lansing, and environmentally-conscious Spartans have worked to improve the river’s surface water quality and overall pollution levels. Twice a year, the MSU Fisheries and Wildlife Club hosts a Red Cedar River Cleanup to bring awareness to students about their direct impact on the river, and the greater Red Cedar watershed. They also reveal the truth about the quality of the river, which has drastically improved. The river supports a diverse ecosystem of many different types of plants and fish, so it’s actually not as gross as the rumor says.
You can actually view the most recent quality sampling results as well as real-time flow data of the river from the Farm Lane bridge on their website (I suggest revisiting the Great Campus Flood of February; that graph went crazy, right?). The Red Cedar River has eventually become less infamous for its water quality and more for its flooding habits.
So as Chicago celebrates their unnaturally-dyed river this St. Patrick’s Day, let’s celebrate how far the quality of the Red Cedar has come. Although students at MSU won’t be celebrating with a green river, many will be celebrating with lots of green beer!
Lauren Utykanski enjoys blueberry green tea, the farmer’s market, and travelling. They toldher olympic dog walking doesn’t exist yet, so instead she decided to study professional writing with a minor in Museum Studies. Keep up with her on Instagram at @laurenuty.
Photo Credit: Craig Hedges