WBEZ | water levels http://www.wbez.org/tags/water-levels Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Morning Shift: How social media is changing the way we monitor public health http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-04-24/morning-shift-how-social-media-changing-way-we <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/social media Flickr Jason A. Howie.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We look at how social media sites like Google and Wikipedia are tracking illness and wellness. Plus, what is the future of plastic shopping bags in Chicago? And we hear the music of Bobby Bare Jr.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-how-social-media-is-changing-the-way/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-how-social-media-is-changing-the-way.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-how-social-media-is-changing-the-way" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: How social media is changing the way we monitor public health" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 08:44:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-04-24/morning-shift-how-social-media-changing-way-we What’s causing the record-low levels in Lake Michigan? http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-causing-record-low-levels-lake-michigan-105262 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Lake Michigan ICE2_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Earlier this month <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748" target="_blank">WBEZ reported</a> that Lake Michigan water levels are at a record low. Today the lake levels are still dropping, putting the livelihoods of shippers, boaters and whole coastal towns at risk.</p><p>That news is not getting old, either: As of Jan. 28, the lake was two inches below the previous record set in 1965 (down from just one inch in early January). It was more than five feet below the record high of 1987. A person of an average height can stand on dry land today in spots where 26 years ago she would have been up to her neck in water.</p><p>A <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748" target="_blank">few commenters on this story</a> asked about the reasons for today&rsquo;s low levels in Lake Michigan. The short answer is that there is no short-term answer. Lake levels are subject to long-term fluctuations caused by weather and precipitation patterns.</p><p>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tests the lake levels in all five Great Lakes daily, and they have <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/now/wlevels/levels.html" target="_blank">data on lake levels</a> going back to 1860. That data shows relatively consistent fluctuations of several feet of depth, usually over the space of a decade or more. In one instance, the water in Lake Michigan went up three whole feet in only three years (1926-1929). Between 1965 and 1987, the levels went up five feet. Now they&rsquo;re back down, but our environmental concerns are drastically different than they were fifty years ago. As Greg Buckley, the City Manager of Two Rivers, Wis. put it, &ldquo;In &lsquo;64 nobody talked about climate change.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The big picture</strong></p><p>The Great Lakes shapes and sizes have been in flux since the lakes were formed over 10,000 years ago by receding glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. As recently as 9,000 years ago, what is now Lake Michigan covered a much larger surface area, and drained out to the Mississippi River system through outlets to the south. What is now Chicago was completely submerged.</p><p>It took another five millenia for the waters to recede to more or less their current level, by which point the St. Lawrence River far to the east had become the lakes&rsquo; main outlet. Simultaneously, the land surrounding the newly-formed glacial lakes began to rebound; without the weight of the massive glaciers pushing it down, the Great Lakes basin landforms rise on their own at a rate of about three inches every hundred years. And <a href="http://www.great-lakes.net/teach/geog/lakeform/lf_1.html" target="_blank">according to the Great Lakes Information Network</a>, sometime in the last 10,000 years the lakes were a full five feet higher than any levels recorded by the U.S. government.</p><p>Glacial change is powerful - but it&rsquo;s slow. Neither a few inches per century of naturally rising lands nor five feet of lake level loss in 10,000 years compares to Lake Michigan&rsquo;s recent decline of five feet over less than 50 years.</p><p><strong>Bottled water is chump change</strong></p><p>Some have suggested that bottled water and municipal water use are draining the lakes.</p><p>&ldquo;Water withdrawals for drinking water, for bottled water, and for municipal use&hellip; are unlikely to be a significant factor in lowering lake levels,&rdquo; said Dr. David Allan, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Michigan (and co-creator of <a href="#video">a new Great Lakes mapping project</a>). &ldquo;If you look at it from a water budget perspective, inputs and outputs, the inputs in the form of precipitation and runoff, and the outputs in terms of evaporation and flow...those values just dwarf the water use of human activity. They&rsquo;re just a small fraction of the total water budget.&rdquo;</p><p>Many cities and towns that draw water from Lake Michigan end up returning that water, used and semi-sanitized, to the same water basin. And although a <a href="http://www.greatlakeslaw.org/blog/bottled_water/" target="_blank">controversial legal loophole</a> allows Great Lakes water to be bottled and sold, the lake water that&rsquo;s disappearing to China enclosed in Nestle company plastic is a fraction of Chicago&rsquo;s daily use alone. It&rsquo;s not enough to <a href="http://www.mouthfrog.com/features/aquafina-to-buy-drain-and-refill-lake-michigan-with-bottled-water" target="_blank">drain the lake</a> by a long shot.</p><p>But bottling and some municipal water uses are a net loss to the lake. Illinois is unique in that on the small Illinois slice of the coast, water is pumped out of Lake Michigan to give Chicago and surrounding suburbs showers, fire hydrants and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tap-what%E2%80%99s-behind-taste-smell-our-water-105214" target="_blank">delicious drinking water</a>&nbsp;&ndash; but it doesn&rsquo;t return. After it&rsquo;s used once, that water drains out into the Chicago River system.</p><p>The Chicago River has a special relationship to Chicagoans&rsquo; consumption habits. It used to flow into Lake Michigan and return Chicago&rsquo;s runoff and sewage. But since 1900, when Chicagoans decided they didn&rsquo;t want to drink their own sewage, it&rsquo;s been <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2012-01-02/january-2-1900-reversing-chicago-river-95172" target="_blank">flowing the other way</a>, out into the Mississippi River system. Even though a federal court decision keeps a cap on Illinois&rsquo; <a href="http://greatlakesecho.org/2011/06/22/great-lakes-diversions-does-illinois-catch-a-break/" target="_blank">water diversion</a>, nearly 2 billion gallons a day leave Lake Michigan for a single use in the Chicago area and never trickle back down.</p><p>Despite that gargantuan-sounding number, Allan says the impact on overall water levels is tiny. After all, we&rsquo;re talking about 4 percent of the entire world&rsquo;s surface fresh water in Lake Michigan alone. That&rsquo;s 1,180 cubic miles of water. A cubic mile of water holds more than a trillion gallons.</p><p>So when it comes to drinking water, the concern for northeastern Illinois is not so much that the lake will run out, but that Illinoisans could hit that <a href="http://ecomythsalliance.org/2009/12/lake-michigan-is-so-big-that-chicago-can%E2%80%99t-run-out-of-water/" target="_blank">federal cap</a> as soon as the year 2030. That means Illinois is going to have to limit use, keep the groundwater in the area clean enough to drink, or <a href="http://www.chicagolandh2o.org/documents/lake-michigan.pdf" target="_blank">renegotiate the deal</a>.</p><p>Of course, <a href="http://lakemichiganacademy.org/news/stories/read/2011-05_are-the-great-lakes-losing-water-" target="_blank">scientists will continue to disagree</a> on how urgently coastal communities need to reduce their diversions.</p><p><strong>What we think we know</strong></p><p>There are a few factors most researchers can agree are affecting lake levels.</p><p>1. Precipitation. The lake&rsquo;s major sources of water replenishment are rivers and streams, runoff, and rain directly over the lake. The water basin is the whole area that drains into that lake, and the area of the Great Lakes water basin is about 295,200 square miles. Last year&rsquo;s massive drought meant reduced precipitation in many parts of the basin. And when water evaporates from Lake Michigan, the movement of weather systems generally dictates that it comes back down further to the East, raining on Ohio or New York. And of course, no water system is contained: at the far eastern end of the Great Lakes basin, water flows out of Lake Ontario, into the St. Lawrence River, and towards the Atlantic. Moisture that leaves here headed east is unlikely to make a quick return.</p><p>2. Surface temperature. The sun has an upper hand on any human attempts to control or extract water from the lake. Evaporation across the lake&rsquo;s broad surface is the most reliable cause of water loss. And after the hottest year ever in 2012, we&rsquo;re now experiencing the second consecutive warm winter in the region. Those combined factors mean the lake&rsquo;s surface temperature stays a little warmer, and when the sun shines down, the water disappears even more rapidly than usual. Nearly a foot of the water lost to Lake Michigan disappeared in the hot spell between 2011-2012.</p><p>3. Ice cover. It&rsquo;s probably obvious that ice cover on the lakes is the inverse of warm surface temperatures. And through the winter months it can serve as a protective layer against evaporation. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-07-13/climate-change-hits-mightiest-great-lakes-89058" target="_blank">Great Lakes ice cover </a>has declined 71 percent since 1973 due to rising temperatures.</p><p>4. Dredging in the St. Clair River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Chicago&rsquo;s perpetual diversion of water out of the system via the Chicago River is more than offset by other diversions into the Great Lakes basin from the north. But they concur with researchers who say that further east, the deepening of the St. Clair River accounts for over a foot of permanent loss in Lakes Michigan and Huron. The St. Clair, which connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair near Detroit, has been dredged to <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/pubs/fulltext/1985/19850006.pdf" target="_blank">keep shipping channels open</a> since the mid-1800s. Lakes Erie and Ontario, which receive the flow diverted through the St. Clair, are not facing the <a href="http://www.lre.usace.army.mil/_kd/Items/actions.cfm?action=Show&amp;item_id=3887&amp;destination=ShowItem" target="_blank">same low water crisis</a>.</p><p><strong>Climate change, right?</strong></p><p>Is climate change causing the water to disappear? As Allan puts it, &ldquo;the answer is a decisive maybe.&rdquo;</p><p>Looking back at the loss of five feet of water over the last thirty years, he said, &ldquo;you&rsquo;d like to be able to say what fraction of that drop is due to climate change. And I don&rsquo;t know how one would do that.&rdquo;</p><p>But climate is the major factor in changing lake levels, so even if cause is immeasurable, a correlation between climate change and low water is hardly a stretch. Global temperatures are rising, the Great Lakes region is warming, the lakes are heating up, which means more evaporation and less ice cover.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a whole argument that says falling lake levels are consistent with climate change,&rdquo; Allan said. &ldquo;What I don&rsquo;t think we have the ability to do at the present time is say, &lsquo;our models tell us that lake levels should drop by x amount.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The return of the glaciers</strong></p><p>What&rsquo;s left of the ancient glaciers is now <a href="http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/big-thaw/" target="_blank">melting away</a>, but this time the runoff isn&rsquo;t flowing into inland freshwater lakes. So as lake levels go down, the salty seas are rising. As in the lakes, a process that might have happened naturally over many thousands of years has been accelerating exponentially in recent decades.</p><p>A saltwater invasion threatens coastal crops and raises the likelihood of full-scale destruction of coastal communities by storms and flooding. Plus, rising sea waters threaten fresh-water aquifers along the ocean coasts, which makes the preservation of clean potable water like the Great Lakes all the more pressing.</p><p><strong>A master index of Great Lakes stressors</strong></p><p>Dr. Allan and a team of researchers at the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project (GLEAM) recently launched<a href="http://www.greatlakesmapping.org/great_lake_stressors" target="_blank"> a website </a>that breaks down environmental stressors including temperature change, ice cover, and loss of precipitation into a series of individual maps and a total &ldquo;stress index&rdquo;. Check out this video for a guide to how to use the site.</p><p>&ldquo;I would caution people that the whole mapping tool is designed to be something of a 10,000 foot look at the Great Lakes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;The data get fuzzier the more you zoom in. But you can certainly get a broad picture.&rdquo;</p><p>The stress index across most of Lake Michigan&rsquo;s coast on the GLEAM map is very high. For example, those wide beaches Chicagoans have enjoyed in recent summers also mean shallower water just off the coasts, which can cause a host of problems including increased presence of dangerous bacteria. So much for a summer of safe Lake Michigan swimming. Check out the site for more information, but before you go, watch our instructional guide.<a name="video"></a></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="323" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/58664399" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="500"></iframe></p></p> Thu, 31 Jan 2013 15:32:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-causing-record-low-levels-lake-michigan-105262 What happens if the water in Lake Michigan keeps disappearing? http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F74159429" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/57022109?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="620"></iframe></p><p>Just how bad are low water levels in Lake Michigan? Well, consider this holiday tale.</p><p>Each December in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, a guy in a Santa suit sets out to deliver a boat load of Christmas trees to nearby Manitowoc. But this year, Santa Claus almost didn&rsquo;t make it <em>out</em> of town.<br /><br />&quot;Santa Claus had to get on top of the boat because he couldn&rsquo;t get inside the boat,&nbsp;cause it was too low so they had to put him on the roof,&quot; says&nbsp;Michael LeClair, the white-haired owner of Susie Q&#39;s, the town&#39;s main commercial fishery.&nbsp;</p><p>&quot;He could walk right off the top of the dock right onto the top of the boat, that&rsquo;s how low the water is...25 trees in the boat and he was sitting on top of the pilot house,&quot; LeClair added. &quot;That&rsquo;s how he got on and off. It&rsquo;s just a problem for everything and everyone.&quot;&nbsp;<br /><br />And it seems to be a problem nearly everywhere along Lake Michigan.</p><p>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron hit record lows in December, at nearly two and a half feet below average. Army Corps projections for lake levels have been dire since September, when it became clear that a relatively warm, dry fall and winter would not provide relief from a long drought and one of the the hottest summers ever.</p><p>Now the water is an inch below its record low for this time of year in 1964, and continues to drop.&nbsp;Shippers, fishermen, and small-town tourist harbors say federal help with digging out channels and repairing infrastructure could keep the low water problem from becoming a crisis.</p><p>At Michael LeClair&rsquo;s sizeable fishing operation, he says the low water has started to hurt his business. Behind the Susie Q&rsquo;s smokehouse, LeClair keeps stacks of large gray plastic bins his fishermen have to lower down from the dock with ropes, fill with smelt, and lift back up.&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6912_392-scr.JPG" style="height: 225px; width: 400px; float: left;" title="Michael LeClair in the back of Susie Q's fishery in Two Rivers (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />&ldquo;It&rsquo;s about three times the work of what it usually is,&rdquo; said LeClair. He also worries that the shallow channel will freeze over entirely this winter, making it impossible to send his boats out for smelt at all. But he&rsquo;s resigned to do what&rsquo;s needed; this is his grandfather&rsquo;s company, and it&#39;s one of the town&rsquo;s biggest employers.</p><p>&ldquo;All we can do is wait. Hope things change.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Great Lakes, shrinking harbors</strong></p><p>&ldquo;All you have to do is go up and down the coast lines and see it,&rdquo; said Chuck May of the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition. &ldquo;You see boats that haven&rsquo;t been able to get out yet this year, we&rsquo;ve got on this lake we&rsquo;ve got a pontoon boat sitting at the end of its 200 foot or so dock setting on bare dry land, there isn&rsquo;t any water within at least 30 feet of the boat.&rdquo;</p><p>May retired to Portage Lake in the small Michigan town of Onekama. When the water dropped nearly a foot from the previous year&rsquo;s levels, May saw parts of the lake turn into mud flats. In Onekama, as in countless other harbors, the water is so low that wooden pilings are exposed and deteriorating and boats can no longer get in and out of the harbor.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6911_370-scr.JPG" style="height: 214px; width: 380px; float: left;" title="A wooden dock juts out of the water in Two Rivers, Wisconsin (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />But according to May, it doesn&rsquo;t have to be that way. The federal government taxes all the cargo that comes in and out of its harbors, purportedly in order to fund harbor maintenance and dredging, which is what keeps channels passable, particularly in low water years. Infrastructure repair is also essential during a time like this, when the wooden bases of 100-year-old seawalls are exposed and crumbling.</p><p>But for years now, the federal government has held back much of the money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which brings in about $1.5 billion a year. May accuses politicians of trying to make a dent in the deficit at the expense of smaller federal harbors like Portage Lake; a tiny fraction of the $750 million in unused funds could solve the city&rsquo;s problems.</p><p>In order to get around the funding dry-up, Great Lakes harbors have routinely sought out earmarks and special appropriations to stay operational. The frugal fiscal cliff environment in Washington is unfavorable to that approach these days. The Army Corps&rsquo;<a href="http://www.lre.usace.army.mil/ETSPubs/HFS/all%20fact%20sheets.pdf" target="_blank">&nbsp;detailed list of necessary repairs</a>&nbsp;seems to have an urgent project budgeted for nearly every single Great Lakes harbor, and the vast majority of the projects are unfunded for FY2013.&nbsp;This year only 15 out of 140 federal harbors in the Great Lakes will get dredged.</p><p>May founded the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition in 2007 to try to pass federal legislation that would require the government to spend all the money in the fund on its harbors.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr104" target="_blank">That legislation</a>, known as the RAMP Act,&nbsp;is creeping its way through congressional committees and could come to a vote this year.</p><p><strong>The heart of Two Rivers</strong></p><p>Back across the lake in Two Rivers, Wis., City Manager Greg Buckley agrees that the need for federal help in small harbors is dire. A wide federal channel is the center of Two Rivers, and it hasn&rsquo;t been dredged for decades.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Army%20corps%20map%20of%202%20rivers.jpg" style="height: 410px; width: 280px; float: right;" title="Army Corps map of Two Rivers" /></p><p>&ldquo;There are areas where there&rsquo;s only two feet of water,&rdquo; said Buckley, standing at the meeting point of the city&rsquo;s two rivers looking out onto the channel. Right now in a kind of DIY-dredging larger fishing boats use their propellers to pick up sand and silt as they go. If the water gets much lower, they could hit rock.</p><p>The town of Two Rivers needs its waterways. From the channel&rsquo;s meeting point with Lake Michigan, a massive brick factory stretches all the way back through town on the riverfront - and it&rsquo;s almost completely empty. The Hamilton factory opened in the 1800s to make wood type, and later made kitchen appliances and office furniture.</p><p>&ldquo;Our community band was the Hamilton band, our city hall is the reuse of the Hamilton community school,&rdquo; said Buckley. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s eerily quiet now.&rdquo; The operations of the former Hamilton company, which were bought and sold by various larger companies over the years, have been leaving incrementally for nearly two decades. The last manufacturing jobs associated with Hamilton moved to Mexico in 2011.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll pick ourselves up from that, something good will ultimately come from it,&rdquo; said Buckley &ldquo;and a lot of that relates to the water resources we sit right on top of, assuming we still have water in the lake and water in the rivers.&rdquo;</p><p>Buckley envisions Two Rivers as a tourist destination, with beautiful beaches and quaint harbors to complement the blue collar fishing town. He wants to redevelop the Hamilton building and turn Two Rivers&rsquo; beaches and boating opportunities into a draw for potential homeowners. He checks out Illinois license plates when they come through town, hopeful that wealthy Chicagoans will look to Two Rivers for summer homes.</p><p><strong>The trouble with dredging</strong></p><p>Dredging, or digging up sand and silt from the bottoms of rivers to keep them at set depths, is how the federal government has maintained its waterways since the 1800s. But it&rsquo;s also part of the reason why Lake Michigan is particularly low these days. Scientists agree that routine dredging of the St. Clair River, which connects Lake Huron to Lake Erie via Lake St. Clair, has permanently lowered average levels in Michigan-Huron by a full foot. Dredging solves immediate problems for shipping, but it does not return water to the lake.</p><p>And dredging can have immediate environmental consequences, too. In an industrial place like Indiana Harbor at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, the actual material dredged up is toxic and has to be carefully stored.</p><p><strong>Indiana&rsquo;s not immune</strong></p><p>Back down in Indiana Harbor, managers for huge shipping operations agree with the small harbor leaders that the federal government should release all the harbor maintenance funds to the Army Corps to fix up the harbors.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6914_543-scr.JPG" style="height: 169px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Dan Cornellie of ArcelorMittal points to the channel to be dredged in Indiana Harbor (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />Indiana Harbor will get dredged this year for the first time in 40 years. But freight operators who bring iron ore down from the Upper Peninsula to Indiana&rsquo;s steel plants say there are already other harbors where their ships are unable to navigate, redirecting freight which is then trucked to where it needs to go. That sort of inefficiency is bad for everyone in the industry.</p><p>&ldquo;If we had another summer like we had this summer, you know, lord help us,&rdquo; said Dan Cornellie of ArcelorMittal steel.</p><p>For every inch of water the lake loses, the ships supplying two large steel plants here have to lighten their loads by hundreds of tons. Right now freighters are coming into the harbor with two and a half feet less draft than just a few years ago, so for every six trips a ship makes, ArcelorMittal pays for a seventh to make up the difference. The result is a pricier bottom line for the thin, high-quality steel used to make everything from refrigerators to coffee machines.</p><p>Cornellie has been in the industry for a long time, and he remembers the low lake levels of 1964, but he said this time it doesn&rsquo;t feel the same.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, in &#39;64 nobody talked about climate change,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s no mystery what&rsquo;s going on. It&rsquo;s a question of whether any of those temperature or precipitation trends reverse.&rdquo;</p><p><b>A future in drought?</b></p><p>2012 was just tallied as the hottest year on record, and U.S. climatologists predict a continued rise in average temperatures in coming years. Precipitation in the Michigan-Huron basin in 2012 was at 87 percent of its long-term average. Although the drought is expected to let up near Lake Michigan, parts of the Midwest will likely stay in severe drought conditions into the coming summer. The Mississippi River is currently&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-shippers-breathe-sigh-relief-rock-removal-begins-mississippi-river-104488" target="_blank">barely holding off a shipping shut-down</a>&nbsp;as it nears its own record low south of St. Louis.</p><p>The water will likely go back up in spring and summer, as it does every year; late winter is generally the lowest time in the lakes&rsquo; yearly cycle. But another summer of extreme heat or drought, and this winter&rsquo;s woes will seem like kid stuff.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6910_366-scr.JPG" style="height: 450px; width: 800px; float: left;" title="The Hamilton factory dominates the waterfront in Two Rivers" /></p><p>&ldquo;Maybe we can&rsquo;t just glibly talk about hey the lakes go up and down and hey what are you gonna do, give it a few years it&rsquo;ll be back,&rdquo; said Buckley, back up in Two Rivers. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not keeping up with the infrastructure needs now, if you exacerbate that situation with dropping lake levels, the economic impact long term could be pretty profound. Now whether that&rsquo;s climate change, whether that&rsquo;s the fact that we humans have just sat here and observed these things for 150 years and think that&rsquo;s the norm when maybe it isn&rsquo;t, well, I don&rsquo;t know.&rdquo;</p></p> Mon, 07 Jan 2013 13:20:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748 Durbin to assess Mississippi River rock-removal effort http://www.wbez.org/news/durbin-assess-mississippi-river-rock-removal-effort-104721 <p><p>THEBES, Ill. &mdash; Two federal lawmakers from Illinois will get a firsthand look at urgent efforts to clear some Mississippi River bedrock that&#39;s crimping shipping on the waterway.</p><p>Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Bill Enyart on Monday will be briefed about the work near Thebes by Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard officials, then tour the site by boat before addressing reporters.</p><p>Corps-hired contractors have been working since last month to clear the underwater rock pinnacles from the river.</p><p>The effort is considered vital in ensuring that stretch of river remains open to barge traffic as the lingering drought continues to lower the level of the Mississippi.</p><p>Barge industry trade groups have expressed concern the ever-dropping river could further restrict barge weights to the point that shipping on the river is halted.</p></p> Sat, 05 Jan 2013 08:17:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/durbin-assess-mississippi-river-rock-removal-effort-104721 Drought could lead Chicago River to reverse course (again) http://www.wbez.org/news/drought-could-lead-chicago-river-reverse-course-again-104414 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/riverreverse.jpg" style="height: 169px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Lieutenant Colonel Jim Schreiner with Senator Dick Durbin and John St. Pierre, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></div>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in early December that without much rain or snow this winter, the Chicago River could reverse course &ndash; for the second time.</div><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Given the run-around</strong></p><p>In the year 1900, the city&#39;s civil engineers&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2012-01-02/january-2-1900-reversing-chicago-river-95172" target="_blank">reversed the flow of the Chicago River</a>, sending Lake Michigan water towards the Mississippi in a famously gutsy feat of engineering. As the city and its industries grew rapidly through the late 1800s, the amount of waste and contamination dumped into the river was threatening to make the lakefront unlivable and deprive Chicagoans of safe drinking water.</p><p>When the Chicago River flows in its natural direction, &quot;what you have is a great deal of, for lack of a better word, poo, going into the Great Lakes,&quot; said Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council.</p><p>That&rsquo;s how we got the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which served the dual purposes of diverting dirty river water away from the lake, and connecting Lake Michigan &ndash; and therefore the entire Great Lakes water basin &ndash; to the Mississippi River water system for the first time, opening up the possibility of commercial navigation between the two. Needless to say many to the south weren&#39;t happy with the new arrangement, which Henderson has described as turning Lake Michigan into <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/henry-henderson/world-toilet-day_b_2171952.html?" target="_blank">&quot;the tank that flushes our waste thousands of miles away into the Gulf of Mexico.&quot;</a></p><p>The new connection between the two water systems has also had unforeseen consequences in the form of invasive species, and lately environmentalists and fishing interests to the north have been <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-07-12/un-reversing-chicago-river-88976" target="_blank">calling on the Army Corps to permanently close off the link</a> through the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) in order to prevent a full-fledged Asian carp invasion. That would also restore the river to its natural flow, and force Chicago to think differently about its water infrastructure and waste treatment.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F71626162&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><strong>Gravity Rules</strong></p><p>Waste treatment or not, the river might re-reverse on its own. After a long drought and one of the hottest summers ever, the water in Lake Michigan only has to go down six inches to sit below the level of the Chicago River. At that point, gravity would send the river back to where it came from.</p><p>Flowing into Lake Michigan with it: sewage runoff and only partially-treated human waste (<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/question-answered-what%E2%80%99s-bottom-chicago-river-102651">among other things</a>). The <a href="http://[http://www.wbez.org/story/feds-okay-chicago-river-cleanup-93801" target="_blank">Chicago River has been somewhat cleaned up in recent years</a>, but not enough to allow an uninterrupted flow back into the city&rsquo;s main source of drinking water and recreational beaches.</p><p>And those suspicious swim advisories you hear about in the summer? The Chicago Park District has warned they will happen more often if the river reverses.</p><p>&ldquo;Anytime you reverse the flow of the Chicago River, you want to monitor and ensure that there&rsquo;s no major impacts on water quality,&rdquo; said Lieutenant Colonel Jim Schreiner, Deputy Commander for the Chicago District Corps of Engineers. He said there are occasions when the Army Corps intentionally (re)-reverses the river to control flooding. All of this is manipulated by the Corps&rsquo; control over the Chicago Harbor Lock. The Army Corps is tasked both with supporting the massive shipping industry through the waterways and with helping control contamination, in partnership with the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/reversing-course-water-agency-backs-chicago-river-cleanup-87524" target="_blank">Metropolitan Water Reclamation District</a>.</p><p>If water levels hit the lowest projections, the Army Corps will regulate lake contamination by closing the locks at Chicago for longer periods. That would limit how often boats and barges pass between the two waterways. According to Lt. Schreiner, over 40-thousand vessels pass through the locks every year in about 11,500 lockages.</p><p>This strange scenario will only come to pass if the Army Corps&rsquo; lowest possible lake level projections for the winter come true; lake levels are almost always at their yearly low in late winter. If significant rain or snow hits the Michigan-Huron region in January or February, the water will still be unusually low, but it is unlikely to lead to a major change of course.</p></p> Mon, 17 Dec 2012 12:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/drought-could-lead-chicago-river-reverse-course-again-104414 Low water in Lake Michigan could cause problems for the shipping industry http://www.wbez.org/news/low-water-lake-michigan-could-cause-problems-shipping-industry-104121 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/RS3818_The Cuyahoga River Today7.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Local ports could run into problems if water levels in Lake Michigan keep going down. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports the lake is 28 inches below the long term average &ndash; and still falling.</p><p>For each inch the lake decreases, cargo ships are forced to lighten their loads. The tonnage left behind ranges between 50 and 300 tons per inch, depending on the type of freight.</p><p>&ldquo;Hopefully we&rsquo;ll see them rise before they go down much lower. Each drop is a concern to everyone in the industry,&rdquo; said Tony Ianello, Executive Director of the Illinois Port District. He said lake levels are always fluctuating, but even normal fluctuations affect shipping costs. Ianello said suppliers pay in extra trips to amount to the same total shipping numbers; down the chain, the price tag could hit consumers. Most shipping in and out of Chicago&#39;s ports is for commodities like grains, many of which are directly linked to the cost of food.</p><p>Precipitation in the Michigan-Huron region in November was nearly 70 percent below the monthly average, and the Army Corps projects Lake Michigan could fall to record lows in the coming months.</p><p>&ldquo;Long term loss of water levels is no good for coastal habitats, but it&rsquo;s also no good for people who like to recreate, swim, and use our Great Lakes shorelines,&rdquo; said Joel Brammeier, President of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. But Brammeier said no one knows for sure whether the lakes are undergoing a long term loss, or a fluctuation.</p><p>A <a href="http://cdm15025.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p267501ccp2/id/3405/rec/8" target="_blank">2009 study</a> of the loss of water in the Great Lakes links the long term decline to human manipulation of the St. Clair River, and to changes in climatic factors including temperature and precipitation. The St. Clair River, which connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair near Detroit, has been <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/pubs/fulltext/1985/19850006.pdf" target="_blank">dredged periodically since the mid-1800s</a>; some researchers say this accounts for over a foot of permanent loss in Lakes Michigan and Huron.</p><p>The two lakes hit their record low in 1964, and peaked again in 1986. Even following 2012&rsquo;s scorching summer, the lake hasn&rsquo;t gone below1964 levels. But the Army Corps projects that by December 30, the water will go down another three inches.</p><p>Meanwhile, the Mississippi River could be facing a complete shutdown of cargo shipping through the passage between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois. Last week the Army Corps&rsquo; Missouri River Basin division began limiting the flow of water through a dam in South Dakota in order to preserve water in that northern region; the Missouri is a key tributary to the Mississippi at St. Louis. Because water levels were already low, the reduced input means 180 miles of the Mississippi could become impassable for barges by mid-December. Immediate solutions to the impending crisis for the river shipping industry are not clear.</p><p>The short-term solution for Lake Michigan is precipitation. If the region has another warm, dry winter, the great lake could keep disappearing before our eyes.</p></p> Thu, 29 Nov 2012 15:44:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/low-water-lake-michigan-could-cause-problems-shipping-industry-104121 Shallow water changes the scene for urban fishermen http://www.wbez.org/news/shallow-water-changes-scene-urban-fishermen-104094 <p><p>As the Great Lakes experience near-record low water levels, fishermen in the Chicago area are running into problems.</p><p>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports November water levels in Lake Michigan were 28 inches lower than the long-term average.</p><p>&ldquo;You know the place called the horseshoe?&rdquo; said Igor Danilishen, who has fished at Chicago&rsquo;s Montrose Harbor for decades. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a great big island in the middle of this horseshoe. We used to fish there. We don&rsquo;t fish there anymore. Because it&rsquo;s too shallow, yeah. It&rsquo;s ducks and geese there instead of fish.&rdquo;</p><p>The low water also affects industrial fisheries and cargo shipping.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG-20121118-00117.jpg" style="width: 280px; float: right;" title="Low water levels in Lake Michigan mean the 'horseshoe' at Montrose Harbor is too dry for fishing. (Igor Danilishen)" /></p><div class="image-insert-image ">The Army Corps says the lake region received about 13 percent less rain than usual this year.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The agency projects lake levels could hit record lows in the coming months.</div><p>&ldquo;It not only affects the fishing in a negative way, it&rsquo;s the whole ecological system,&rdquo; said fisherman Steve Ciszewski, who grew up in Chicago and comes in from the southwest suburbs to fish. &ldquo;Boy, we could use the water.&rdquo;</p></p> Thu, 29 Nov 2012 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/shallow-water-changes-scene-urban-fishermen-104094 Raising Lakes Huron, Michigan costly http://www.wbez.org/story/raising-lakes-huron-michigan-costly-87633 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-June/2011-06-09/71556019.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A new report says it would be technologically feasible to raise water levels in Lakes Huron and Michigan to make up for drop-offs caused by more than a century of dredging and other human activity.&nbsp;</p><p>But the report obtained by The Associated Press says it would take decades to accomplish the task and the price tag could exceed $200 million.</p><p>The study is scheduled for public release Friday. It was conducted by a team of engineers and scientists for the International Joint Commission, a&nbsp; U.S.-Canadian panel that advises both nations on Great Lakes issues.</p><p>They're trying to determine whether it would be worthwhile to place underwater dams, gates or other structures at the upper end of the St. Clair River to&nbsp; reduce the volume of water escaping Lake Huron.</p><p>(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.&nbsp; All Rights Reserved.)</p></p> Thu, 09 Jun 2011 14:53:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/raising-lakes-huron-michigan-costly-87633