How Climate Change Is Making This River Run Backwards
By Henry Henderson
That's the number of gallons of contaminated Chicago River water that have flowed into Lake Michigan—source of drinking water and quality of life for millions of Americans—in the last decade. The river normally flows away from the lake, so what gives?
Blame climate change. And infrastructure not designed or built to deal with the changes brought the changing climate.
Violent storms dump an incredible volume of rain in very short periods of time. Even with massive additions to the region's stormwater system, it cannot keep up. When that system cannot handle intense rainfall over the area, sewers fill and dump into the River. When the Chicago River fills with all that stormwater, which is now contaminated with all kinds of nasty stuff after comingling with whatever was in the sewer lines, it swells. And after a while, well, gravity takes over. The river level rises above the lake level and water heads downhill. The Chicago River literally changes direction and flows out into Lake Michigan.
"If you are in the business I am in, you absolutely believe in climate change. We are seeing more intense, shorter duration rain events. We used to see several years in a row where we wouldn't have any reversals. But lately we are experiencing reversals at least once a year."
He would know. MWRD manages the stormwater infrastructure for Chicagoland, a massive swath of pipes, pits and tunnels underlaying nearly 900 square miles.
Which is all a long way around to saying, I can think of 33 billion other reasons for the Trump administration to rethink its rumored departure from the Paris climate accords. Chicago is hardly the only city which will face immense costs if this country does not seriously address climate change in the face of startling problems already visible today.
Henry Henderson is director of the Midwest program at Natural Resources Defense Council.
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By Tara Lohan
In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.
Transmission lines from the Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador. Douglas Spott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Atlantic sturgeon were brought to the brink of extension in the 20th century and are now are listed as an endangered species. NOAA
Near Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the Churchill (Grand) River downstream from Muskrat Falls. Douglas Sprott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Construction of the Site C dam in British Columbia in 2017. Jason Woodhead / CC BY 2.0
The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Dennis Schroeder / NREL / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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