The Illinois Waterway
system consists of 336 miles (540.7 km) of water from the mouth of the Calumet River
The Calumet River refers to a system of heavily industrialized rivers and canals in the region between the neighborhood of South Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, and the city of Gary, Indiana.-Background:...
to the mouth of the Illinois River
The Illinois River is a principal tributary of the Mississippi River, approximately long, in the State of Illinois. The river drains a large section of central Illinois, with a drainage basin of . This river was important among Native Americans and early French traders as the principal water route...
Grafton is the oldest city in Jersey County, Illinois, United States. It is located near the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. As of the 2010 U.S. census, the city had a total population of 674. Prior to the Great Flood of 1993, Grafton had enjoyed a stable population of nearly...
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...
. It is a system of rivers, lakes, and canals which provide a shipping connection from the Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...
to the Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...
via the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...
. The Illinois and Michigan Canal
The Illinois and Michigan Canal ran from the Bridgeport neighborhood in Chicago on the Chicago River to LaSalle-Peru, Illinois, on the Illinois River. It was finished in 1848 when Chicago Mayor James Hutchinson Woodworth presided over its opening; and it allowed boat transportation from the Great...
opened in 1849. In 1900, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal
The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, historically known as the Chicago Drainage Canal, is the only shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system, by way of the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers...
replaced it and reversed the flow of the Chicago River
The Chicago River is a system of rivers and canals with a combined length of that runs through the city of the same name, including its center . Though not especially long, the river is notable for being the reason why Chicago became an important location, as the link between the Great Lakes and...
so it no longer flowed into Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the United States. It is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume and the third largest by surface area, after Lake Superior and Lake Huron...
. The United States Army Corps of Engineers
The United States Army Corps of Engineers is a federal agency and a major Army command made up of some 38,000 civilian and military personnel, making it the world's largest public engineering, design and construction management agency...
maintains a 9 feet (2.7 m) navigation channel in the waterway.
A series of eight locks
A lock is a device for raising and lowering boats between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways. The distinguishing feature of a lock is a fixed chamber in which the water level can be varied; whereas in a caisson lock, a boat lift, or on a canal inclined plane, it is...
, managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, control water flow from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River system. The upper lock, T.J. O'Brien, is 7 miles from Lake Michigan on the Calumet River and the last lock is 90 miles (144.8 km) upstream from the Mississippi River at the LaGrange lock and dam. The amount of water released into the Illinois often is a sore point among Lake and river interests. When Lake Michigan water levels are high, Lake interests want to increase the flow and when lake levels are low they want to restrict the flow. That is why an international treaty regulates the flow, as Canada also has an interest in Lake Michigan levels which eventually flow into the Lakes Erie
Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the tenth largest globally. It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. It is bounded on the north by the...
Lake Huron is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. Hydrologically, it comprises the larger portion of Lake Michigan-Huron. It is bounded on the east by the Canadian province of Ontario and on the west by the state of Michigan in the United States...
, and Ontario
Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded on the north and southwest by the Canadian province of Ontario, and on the south by the American state of New York. Ontario, Canada's most populous province, was named for the lake. In the Wyandot language, ontarío means...
Primary cargoes are coal to powerplants, chemicals and petroleum upstream and corn and soybeans downstream primarily for export through New Orleans.
Some winters ice flows, especially around the locks and dams, preclude towboats and barges from navigating the Illinois.
Locks and dams
|Lock/Dam Name || Location || River Miles|
| Pool Level|
(above sea level)
| Geo Coordinates
|T.J. O’Brien L&D
|| 577 feet (176 m)
|| 41°39′7.45"N 87°34′1.24"W
Lockport is a city in Will County, Illinois, United States, that incorporated in 1853. Lockport is located in northeastern Illinois, 30 miles southwest of Chicago, and north of Joliet, at locks connecting Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal with the Des Plaines River via the Lockport...
||577 feet (176 m)
|| 41°34′8.61"N 88°4′39.29"W
|Brandon Road L&D
Joliet is a city in Will and Kendall Counties in the U.S. state of Illinois, located southwest of Chicago. It is the county seat of Will County. As of the 2010 census, the city was the fourth-most populated in Illinois, with a population of 147,433. It continues to be Illinois' fastest growing...
||539 feet (164 m)
|| 41°30′12.12"N 88°6′11.04"W
|Dresden Island L&D
Morris is a city in Grundy County, Illinois, United States. The population was 13,636 at the 2010 census.Morris is home to the Dresden Nuclear Power Plant, which provides a substantial portion of the electricity supply for the Chicago metropolitan area...
|| 505 feet (154 m)
|| 41°23′52.66"N 88°16′56.42"W
Marseilles is a city in LaSalle County, Illinois, United States. The population was 4,655 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Ottawa–Streator Micropolitan Statistical Area.-History:...
|| 483 feet (147 m)
|| 41°19′39.77"N 88°45′4.5"W
|Starved Rock L&D
|| North Utica
North Utica is a village in Utica Township, LaSalle County, Illinois. The population was 977 at the 2000 United States Census. It is part of the Ottawa–Streator Micropolitan Statistical Area....
|| 458 feet (140 m)
|| 41°19′27.93"N 88°59′10.82"W
Peoria is the largest city on the Illinois River and the county seat of Peoria County, Illinois, in the United States. It is named after the Peoria tribe. As of the 2010 census, the city was the seventh-most populated in Illinois, with a population of 115,007, and is the third-most populated...
|| 440 feet (134 m)
|| 40°37′54.84"N 89°37′29.52"W
|La Grange L&D
Beardstown is a city in Cass County, Illinois, United States. The population was 6,123 at the 2010 census. The public schools are in Beardstown Community Unit School District 15.-Geography:Beardstown is located at...
|| 430 feet (131 m)
|| 39°56′21.21"N 90°32′0.69"W
The schematic below illustrates the drop of the Illinois Waterway from 578 feet (176 m) (mean) above sea level at Lake Michigan to 419 feet (128 m) (mean) at the Mississippi River at Grafton, Illinois. The eight locks and dams (L&D) on the waterway provide the lift for traffic along the waterway.