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How Climate Change Is Making This River Run Backwards

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Chicago River / Wikimedia Commons

By Henry Henderson

33,000,000,000.

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.

But don't take my word for it—here is what David St. Pierre, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, told Chicago Public Radio this week:

"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.

As St. Pierre noted, climate change is reversing the flow of the Chicago River on a near-annual basis now. It already happened this year. It will probably happen again in 2018.

And, as I've noted before, climate scientists have predicted this phenomenon for decades; so as galling and shocking as the reversal of a river sounds, it shouldn't be a surprise.

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 Johnny Wood

The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.

The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.

Here are some of the challenges the river faces.

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Protesters gathered outside US Bank and Wells Fargo locations around the U.S. to protest investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline on Dec. 1, 2016. This photo is from a protest outside US Bank in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Jake Johnson

As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.


Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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