WBEZ | Army Corps of Engineers http://www.wbez.org/tags/army-corps-engineers Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Great Lakes' low water levels captivate, worry artists http://www.wbez.org/news/science/great-lakes-low-water-levels-captivate-worry-artists-110672 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SCHROEDER_WBEZ_2.jpg" title="Tim Schroeder’s pictures of the lakeshore capture the eerie effect of Lake Michigan’s receding water levels. (Tim Schroeder/TWS Photography)" /></div><p>The Great Lakes have been facing some serious challenges, from algae blooms in Lake Erie, to the loss of ice cover in Lake Superior. Water levels in lakes Michigan and Huron have been mostly below their long-term average for fifteen years. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748">At the start of 2013, they hit record lows</a>, but a long winter with a lot of snow and ice has brought the lakes back up.</p><p>Michigan and Huron, which rise and fall together and have been the hardest-hit by the low water, peaked <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard/GLWLD.html">just around their long-term average in July</a> (although they&rsquo;re still several inches below their average for this time of year, when the water is typically highest). If the levels in Michigan-Huron stay above the overall average, it will be the first sustained rise since 1998.</p><p>WBEZ has reached out to scientists, fishermen, shippers &mdash; anyone who could shed light on what&rsquo;s happening. It turns out, some of the sharpest observers of the lake&rsquo;s wild swings the last few years are artists. We talked to a photographer and a landscape painter, both of whom look at the same lake, but don&rsquo;t necessarily see the same things.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Lewis-Pier-Photo.jpg" title="Tim Schroeder is a photographer and long-time resident of St. Joseph, Michigan. (Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p>St. Joseph, Michigan is a small town on Lake Michigan about 100 miles from Chicago, a weekend getaway spot.</p><p>At the beach on a bright day, sailboats cruise out of the St. Joseph river and onto the open water. Tim Schroeder says he comes down here all the time to take pictures, or just to observe.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve done a lot of photographs of fishermen and stuff on the pier, just the mood of the lake, the atmosphere,&rdquo; he says. Schroeder, 62, has been a <a href="http://www.twsphotography.com/">professional photographer</a> in St. Joseph for 40 years.</p><p>The lakefront is always changing, and Schroeder&rsquo;s photographs show that. They&rsquo;re kind of eerie, mystical photos featuring rocks jutting out into misty skies, the remnants of rotting piers.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SCHROEDER_WBEZ_1.jpg" title="A photo of Lake Michigan from Tim Schroeder’s collection (Tim Schroeder/TWS Photography)" /></div><p>&ldquo;I can see things now that may not have even been visible before, old pilings, breakwaters, stuff like that,&rdquo; says Schroeder. He says the low water has revealed a lot of visually interesting things that use to be submerged.</p><p>Further north in Michigan, <a href="http://maryeandersen.com/art/">painter Mary Andersen</a> keeps a studio in Grand Rapids. Her house is full of her impressionistic, abstract paintings of the lakeshore, all pale colors and light.</p><p>She often goes back to the same spot over and over as it changes, and just like Tim Schroeder, Andersen has been watching the lake her whole life.</p><p>&ldquo;I grew up looking at it, swimming in it, traveling to the beaches,&rdquo; Andersen says.</p><p>She loves how the shoreline shifts and moves, she says. &ldquo;I find it interesting and exciting. If it was always the same, how boring.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Mary-Andersen-Pic-1.jpg" title="Painter Mary Andersen isn’t particularly worried about the water levels fluctuating. (Lindsey Smith/Michigan Radio)" /></div><p>Schroeder agrees: The constant transformation is inspiring. But back out at the lakefront, he gestures towards a stepladder that goes off the edge of the pier. It&rsquo;s the kind you climb down to get in for a swim, but we&rsquo;re still yards from the actual water and the ladder goes straight into the sand.</p><p>This change &mdash; the water receding &mdash; makes Schroeder uncomfortable.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t like seeing the lake levels lower, because I think it&rsquo;s a little unnerving,&rdquo; he says. Like a lot of folks, Schroeder&rsquo;s not exactly sure why the water tends to be lower these days.</p><p>Part of it may be man made; a shipping channel on the other side of Lake Huron has been deepened over and over to keep it passable. Most researchers agree that&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/once-steady-great-lakes-flow-altered-by-dredging-dams-and-now-warming-temperatures-217150821.html">lowered Lake Michigan and Huron by 10-18 inches</a>. In general though, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-causing-record-low-levels-lake-michigan-105262">lake levels fluctuate based on climate: precipitation and evaporation</a>. The record lows in 2013 were caused by a hot summer and drought, and this past winter&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637">Polar Vortex</a>, complete with loads of snow and ice, helped bring them back up.</p><p>But now some scientists are saying droughts and lack of ice cover could cause Lakes Michigan and Huron to stay low over the long run. The Council of the Great Lakes Region (CGLR) <a href="http://councilgreatlakesregion.org/projects/low-water-blues/">commissioned a study</a> of a worst-case scenario.</p><p>&ldquo;If we were to see a future, as a result of climate change where water levels in the Great Lakes region would be at their lows for an extended period of time, what would the economic impact be?&rdquo; asks Mark Fisher, CEO of the CGLR.</p><p>The report finds cargo ships would have to reduce their loads for every inch the lakes go down. There are also costs for the exposed and rotting infrastructure Schroeder likes to photograph; tourism and the region&rsquo;s indigenous communities would take a hit, and lakefront property values could also suffer.</p><p>Between now and 2030, the report estimates a potential economic loss of $9.6 billion in the U.S. and Canadian areas surrounding the Great Lakes. By 2050, it would add up to almost $19 billion across the region.</p><p>This is just one scenario, and water levels are difficult to predict beyond about 6 months out. But Fisher says many of the estimates are conservative, and regardless, we need to look at the short-term changes as part of a bigger picture.</p><p>&ldquo;The challenge with climate change is that it&rsquo;s subtle, it&rsquo;s incremental. It&rsquo;s sometimes hard to see depending on where you are in the basin,&rdquo; he says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Mary-Andersen-Pic-2.jpg" title="Mary Andersen does most of her painting in her home in Grand Rapids, but she also spends hours at the lakeshore observing. (Lindsey Smith/Michigan Radio)" /></div><p>But not everyone is worried about all this &mdash; artist Mary Andersen knows the lake better than most, and she says last year&rsquo;s record low water didn&rsquo;t faze her. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Because I grew up along the lake, I have witnessed the fluctuation in the lake levels three times over my lifetime, from severe lows to record highs,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>In fact, she remembers extremely high water in the 1980s being destructive in its own way, causing erosion on the lakefront, and sometimes flooding low-lying areas.</p><p>Andersen says she is worried about <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483">water scarcity and drought in other places</a>, but she&rsquo;s not sure about climate change. She thinks the lake&rsquo;s changes are a natural cycle.</p><p>&ldquo;The fluctuation of the lake levels is not our fault,&rdquo; Andersen says.</p><p>When it comes to fluctuation, most scientists would agree that it is a natural cycle: <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard/GLWLD.html">The levels have gone from low to high every 10-25 years</a> since humans started recording it about 100 years ago. &nbsp;The concern is that climate change could mean the lows keep getting lower, and the highs never get quite as high.</p><p>But the extremes associated with climate change means it&rsquo;s difficult for scientists to predict; after all, in the middle of winter 2012-2013, no one had any idea the lake levels would <a href="http://w3.lre.usace.army.mil/hh/ForecastData/MBOGLWL-mich_hrn.pdf">rise by several feet in just over a year.</a></p><p>And, lower water levels is only a piece of what could be coming to the Great Lakes.</p><p>&ldquo;It almost feels like death by a thousand cuts to the Great Lakes region,&rdquo; says Beth Gibbons, the project manager with the Great Lakes Climate Change Assessment for Cities (GLAA-C) in Ann Arbor. &nbsp;</p><p>Gibbons is focused on adaptation and preparedness for climate change. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t wait for a single event &mdash; sea level rise to pass &lsquo;X&rsquo; threshold, a Hurricane Sandy to come up the coast, a wildfire that&rsquo;s burning 800 acres to suddenly threaten one of our major cities. We need to be able to look at this day by day, storm by storm.&rdquo;</p><p>She says we need <a href="http://graham.umich.edu/glaac/great-lakes-atlas">to take stock of what&rsquo;s coming</a> in order to plan for more climate extremes. Most cities in the region haven&rsquo;t even estimated the costs.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SCHROEDER_WBEZ_7.jpg" title="Photographer Tim Schroeder looks forward to a time when human activity doesn’t threaten the Great Lakes’ health. (Tim Schroeder/TWS Photography)" /></div><p>&ldquo;We can live beautiful lives, we don&rsquo;t have to mess everything up while we&rsquo;re doing it,&rdquo; says Tim Schroeder.</p><p>The photographer insists he&rsquo;s not an activist, but he wants to see all the lake&rsquo;s problems turn around. &ldquo;I mean, there has to be a way to figure out how to do this without poisoning our waterways and without ruining landscapes...I mean, there&rsquo;s just gotta be a balance.&rdquo;</p><p>Schroeder takes in the scene at the lakefront &mdash; it&rsquo;s quiet except for a few kids, and an occasional charter boat coming into the channel.</p><p>&ldquo;I look at these kids playing around on the beach, and one of those kids might be eight years old, well I&rsquo;m 62, so what&rsquo;s it gonna be like when he&rsquo;s 62?&rdquo; Schroeder ask. &ldquo;Is it gonna get to the point where we&rsquo;re using so much water for everything that these piers will basically just become a monument on sand?&rdquo;</p><p>He says he&rsquo;d love to come back to Lake Michigan with his camera in a hundred years, just to see what it looks like then.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a reporter and host at WYSO, the public radio station for Ohio&rsquo;s Miami Valley region. Follow him </em><a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants"><em>@lewispants</em></a><em>.</em></p><p><em>Reporter Lindsey Smith of Michigan Radio contributed to this story.</em></p></p> Tue, 19 Aug 2014 08:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/great-lakes-low-water-levels-captivate-worry-artists-110672 New study finds Asian carp DNA in Chicago waterways http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/new-study-finds-asian-carp-dna-chicago-waterways-106520 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/farmdog/6257877889/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/asian%20carp%20by%20jeremy%20m%20farmer.jpg" style="height: 407px; width: 610px;" title="(Jeremy Farmer via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>The advance of the so-called <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/asian-carp">Asian carp</a> (the term can refer to many species of carp, but in Illinois it typically refers to bighead carp and silver carp) has long prompted <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-08/ecomyths-asian-carps-destructive-impact-ecosystem-101816">worries that the fish will wreck the Great Lakes ecosystem</a>, including its $7 billion fishery. Its impending arrival has even energized debate over whether to spend billions physically separating Chicago waterways from Lake Michigan.</p><p>The carp&rsquo;s march up the Mississippi River basin <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/scientists-find-asian-carp-lake-calumet">even surmounted electric barriers</a> set up by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep them out of the Great Lakes area. A&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/cjfas-2012-0478">new study in the <em>Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences</em></a> affirms that if the fish haven&rsquo;t reached the Great Lakes yet, they&rsquo;re very close.</p><p>In 2010 fisherman hauled a 20-pound bighead carp out of Lake Calumet, and before that carp were found in the western basin of Lake Erie &mdash; the same locations where the researchers found carp environmental DNA, or eDNA. Fish shed tiny bits of tissue as they swim, which become diffuse genetic evidence of their presence. The eDNA can&rsquo;t say how many fish are in the area, or when they were there.</p><p>Scientists had already found carp eDNA in Lake Michigan, but chalked it up to contact with contaminated fishing gear or bird feces. The new report has raised eyebrows because, as the authors put it, &ldquo;we remain convinced that the most likely source of Asian carp DNA is live fish.&rdquo;</p><p>eDNA monitoring of invasive species is a relatively new technology. It <a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/201454551.html?refer=y">can produce murky results</a>, as in Minnesota where it may have misidentified carp DNA in the St. Croix river.</p><p>The new study was authored by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, the Nature Conservancy and Central Michigan University, and calls for a larger surveillance program across the Great Lakes basin.</p><p>Carp are abundant below the electric barriers near Chicago, can eat up to 20 percent of their body weight per day in plankton &mdash; a food source already under considerable pressure from <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-07-11/battle-over-ballast-waters-88934">invasive quagga and zebra mussels</a> &mdash;&nbsp;and are known for leaping out of the water when agitated. But the carp remain elusive where their eDNA has been found, despite all the scrutiny from anxious fishermen and ecologists. Still, the latest findings are likely to reignite debate about whether the current defenses are enough.</p><p>The Army Corps of Engineers is studying the issue, and will release a report later this year.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 05 Apr 2013 16:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/new-study-finds-asian-carp-dna-chicago-waterways-106520 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 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 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 Electric barrier, last line against invasive species http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-21/electric-barrier-last-line-against-invasive-species-88123 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//frontandcenter/photo/2011-06-21/88123/P1020240.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>In connecting the Great Lake Michigan to the Mighty Mississippi, Chicago left the back door open to some unwelcome visitors. Asian Carp are the latest threat and our last line of defense spans the Sanitary and Ship Canal,&nbsp;about 30 miles southwest of the city. WBEZ’s Gabriel Spitzer visited the electric barriers there.&nbsp; In this report he explains how engineers are trying to hold the line against the fish.</p></p> Tue, 21 Jun 2011 15:54:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-21/electric-barrier-last-line-against-invasive-species-88123