Except for a few short streams flowing into Lake Michigan, nearly all the streams and rivers of Illinois drain westward or southward to the Mississippi River or to the Ohio River, which joins the Mississippi near Cairo in the extreme south. The Mississippi forms the western boundary of the state. Its tributaries in Illinois include the Illinois, Rock, Kaskaskia, and Big Muddy rivers. The Ohio River’s chief tributary in Illinois is the Wabash River. The Embarras and Little Wabash rivers are tributaries of the Wabash.
The largest river entirely within the state is the Illinois River, which is formed by the junction of the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers. It flows for 680 km (420 mi) across the state before joining the Mississippi River at Grafton. The Illinois has been deepened and straightened and forms part of the Illinois Waterway.
The watershed between rivers that flow into the Mississippi river system and rivers that flow into the Great Lakes is low and in many places is not easily discernible. In what is now the Chicago area, explorers had little difficulty portaging, or carrying, their canoes over the low watershed between the Des Plaines River, which flows into the Illinois, and the Chicago River, which then flowed into Lake Michigan. In 1900 the Chicago River’s flow was reversed to make it carry and dilute the city’s sewage and industrial wastes into the Illinois River, instead of into Lake Michigan, the source of the city’s drinking water.
Except for Lake Michigan, which borders the state on the northeast, there are no large natural lakes in Illinois. Small natural lakes, all in the northern part of the state, include Clear, Crane, Fox, Goose, Grass, Peoria, Pistakee, and Ringwood lakes. The largest artificially created bodies of water within Illinois include Rend Lake, which is held back by a dam on the Big Muddy River, and Carlyle Lake, on the Kaskaskia River near Carlyle. "Illinois" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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