Bubbly Creek

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Bubbly Creek
Bubbly Creek headwaters-Racine Avenue Pump Station JPG.jpg
headwaters of Bubbly Creek and the Racine Avenue Pump Station
Other name(s) South Fork South Branch Chicago River
Basin features
Main source Near W. Pershing Road, Chicago
603 ft (184 m)
41°49′24″N 87°38′47″W / 41.8233333°N 87.6463889°W / 41.8233333; -87.6463889 (Bubbly Creek (historical) origin)
River mouth Confluence with the South Branch Chicago River in Chicago
581 ft (177 m)
41°49′33″N 87°39′27″W / 41.8258333°N 87.6575°W / 41.8258333; -87.6575 (Bubbly Creek (historical) mouth)Coordinates: 41°49′33″N 87°39′27″W / 41.8258333°N 87.6575°W / 41.8258333; -87.6575 (Bubbly Creek (historical) mouth)
Physical characteristics
Length 2 mi (3.2 km)
GNIS ID 1826468

Bubbly Creek is the nickname given to the South Fork of the Chicago River's South Branch, which runs entirely within the city of Chicago, Illinois, U.S. It marks the boundary between the Bridgeport and McKinley Park community areas of the city. The creek derives its name from the gases bubbling out of the riverbed from the decomposition of blood and entrails dumped into the river in the early 20th century by the local meatpacking businesses surrounding the Union Stock Yards directly south of the creek's endpoint at Pershing Road. It was brought to notoriety by Upton Sinclair in his exposé on the American meat packing industry entitled The Jungle.[1]


A man standing on slaughterhouse-derived waste in Bubbly Creek in Chicago in 1911.

The area surrounding Bubbly Creek was originally a wetland; during the 19th century, channels were dredged to increase the rate of flow into the Chicago River and dry out the area to increase the amount of habitable land in the fast-growing city. The South Fork became an open sewer for the local stockyards, especially the Union Stock Yards. Meatpackers dumped waste, such as blood and entrails, into the nearest river.[2] The creek received so much blood and offal that it began to bubble methane and hydrogen sulfide gas from the products of decomposition.[1]

In 1906, author Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, an unflattering portrait of America's meat packing industry. In it, he reported on the state of Bubbly Creek, writing that:

Present situation[edit]

Bubbly Creek and Bridgeport Village

Two heavily polluted streams that joined to create the South Fork were later filled in, but their courses can still be seen today in the configuration of streets and railroad tracks in the area.

The area has been increasingly occupied by residential development such as Bridgeport Village; a program to oxygenate the creek by continuously injecting compressed air into the water has met with limited success; the creek's odor is much reduced, and some fish and vegetation have returned in recent decades.[3] Areas near the creek have been designated for recreational uses including parks, and developers and the city agreed on a 60-foot (18 m) setback to allow for remediation.[4] However, during heavy rains, millions of gallons of wastewater continue to be dumped into the stagnant creek by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.[3]

As of 2007, the City of Chicago and the Army Corps of Engineers were considering a $2.65 million feasibility study to look at restoration options, which would have implications for the remainder of the Chicago River system due to the unusual challenges of Bubbly Creek. The creek's waters are largely stagnant, having little gravitational flow; the study will look into possibilities, including a meandering stream amid a wetland, to restore an oxygenated system.[4] The actual renovation project is expected to cost $15.4 million. In 2015, the project was stalled, due to contamination discovered in the creek's sediments. [5]


  1. ^ a b Upton Sinclair (1906). The Jungle. pp. Chapter 9. 
  2. ^ Grossman, James R., Ann Durkin Keating and Janice L. Ruff (eds.), Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Meatpacking", pp. 515-7, University of Chicago Press, 2004, ISBN 0-226-31015-9
  3. ^ a b Gallun, Alby. Flushing out Bubbly Creek. Chicago Business. July 25, 2004.
  4. ^ a b Glink, Ilyce (2007-07-05). "New hope for sullied creek". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  5. ^ Gregory, Ted (2015-06-26). "Plan to restore Bubbly Creek stalls amid contamination concerns". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2015-12-13. 

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