WBEZ | Chicago waterways http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-waterways Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Flooding in a drought year http://www.wbez.org/news/flooding-drought-year-106171 <p><p>After a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/drought-could-lead-chicago-river-reverse-course-again-104414" target="_blank">frighteningly dry</a> summer, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748" target="_blank">record-low lake levels</a> over the winter and a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-shippers-breathe-sigh-relief-rock-removal-begins-mississippi-river-104488" target="_blank">near shut-down of the Mississippi river</a> due to low waters, it&rsquo;s flood season. This week there were flood warnings in Lake County to the north of Chicago and in parts of&nbsp; the Illinois River to the west, and numerous rivers and streams hit flood or near-flood levels near the Quad Cities, Cairo and St. Louis.</p><p>The sudden flooding may be hard to absorb, but it&rsquo;s a fact of living in a floodplain state. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-would-chicago-look-if-settlers-hadn%E2%80%99t-changed-it-105902" target="_blank">Illinois&rsquo; low lands</a> and abundant rivers mean many parts of the state are liable to flood on a yearly basis, and the Chicago area&rsquo;s history is marked by almost countless <a href="http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/460.html" target="_blank">catastrophic floods</a>.</p><p>So, is anything special about <a href="http://thesouthern.com/news/local/a-bit-of-flooding-really-good-news/article_99028cea-9122-11e2-860c-001a4bcf887a.html" target="_blank">this year&rsquo;s flood warnings</a>? Well, yes and no.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F84135188" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>&ldquo;Typically, our flood season for the larger rivers is in the early spring,&rdquo; said Bill Morris, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service. But this year, he said, areas north of Chicago had a frost depth down to ten inches during the melt and precipitation. &ldquo;So when we had additional rainfall...that water basically hit a solid surface and just started running off into the streams.&rdquo;</p><p>Morris said the runoff has the added consequence of preventing much-needed water from absorbing into parched, drought-stricken soil. To make a deeper dent in the drought we&rsquo;ll need rain throughout the spring.</p><p>Flood or near-flood conditions have been even more widespread closer to St. Louis, but Mike Petersen of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District agrees that it&rsquo;s not unusual.</p><p>&ldquo;I think what&rsquo;s really alarming for folks is to see how quickly the river came up this year,&rdquo; Petersen said.</p><p>In one day in the St. Louis area he saw the Mississippi rise ten feet due to a combination of increased water from snow melt in the north, and precipitation in the watershed. But rain doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean an end to drought.</p><p>&ldquo;I think we are relieved to have some water in the river, but...we may end up facing low water conditions seeing as we&rsquo;ve gone into this year with less water in the system than we started last year,&rdquo; Petersen said.</p><p><strong>Flood trouble</strong></p><p>Flooding in the greater Chicago area is a lot more complicated than what you might imagine when you hear about a flooded river; in that TV-ready scenario, the river overflows, and water creeps into streets and front yards.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS7151_DSC_1622-scr.JPG" style="height: 208px; width: 310px; float: right;" title="Kathy Parker lives in Morgan Park on the far South Side. Her basement filled with sewer water twice in 2011. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p>But a lot of the flooding that strikes Chicago is flash flooding or sewer backups &ndash; the result of water filling up Chicago&rsquo;s notorious combined sewer system. Dramatic summertime floods afflicted multiple Chicago neighborhoods in recent summers when sudden rains overflowed the city&rsquo;s drainage system.</p><p>Beverly native Kathy Parker has lived in West Morgan Park&nbsp; on the far South Side for six years. In spring of 2011 her house flooded during a downpour, and her finished basement filled with several feet of sewer water. She cleaned for nearly two days straight, threw out a bunch of personal possessions, and thought she&rsquo;d seen the worst of it. A month later, her basement filled up again.</p><p>She described a situation that may be grossly familiar to many Chicagoans.</p><p>&ldquo;This time it was even worse, water just shooting like a fountain out of the drain, and everything imaginable and nasty in there,&rdquo; Parker said.</p><p>She lost her my parents&rsquo; wedding albums in the flood. Her block was lined with dumpsters where neighbors tossed carpets, flooring and personal items.</p><p>Darlene Crawford of Calumet Heights tells a similar story. She&rsquo;s lived on the Southeast Side for over 40 years with her family and has no desire to leave behind the house she bought shortly after marrying her husband.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a close-knit community and most of us have lived here, raised our children and now our grandchildren,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;and a lot of our kids have moved back into this area.&rdquo;</p><p>But not long after they moved into the house, their basement flooded for the first time. She says it has since flooded at least twenty times, not including instances of minor leaks.</p><p>&ldquo;We didn&rsquo;t know to ask, or to have a home inspection [before moving in],&rdquo; she said.</p><p>But it wasn&rsquo;t long before they realized, as Kathy Parker had, that the problem was community-wide.</p><p>&ldquo;We found out that our house wasn&rsquo;t the only house experiencing this type of problem. After a rain we would see the alleys just littered with household items,&rdquo; Crawford said.</p><p>Crawford eventually came together with her neighbors to demand help from the city and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), but she says most of the solutions she and her neighbors have adopted are individual: flood insurance, remodeling, changing how they use their basements for storage and installing individual drainage systems for homes.</p><p><strong>&ldquo;Nobody does anything about it&rdquo;</strong></p><p><a href="http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/04/23/everybody-talks-about-the-weather/" target="_blank">Someone once said</a> everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.</p><p>Not so in the metro Chicago area. Cities and counties have no choice but to act on flooding; the amount of water that melts or precipitates in sudden bursts in an average Chicago spring or summer is too much to ignore.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s faced with a problem related to the nature of its expansive and world-famous sewer system. The system, originally constructed in the 1800s, is what&rsquo;s known as a combined sewer system: raw sewage and rainwater drain into the same pipes. Once upon a time, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2012-01-02/january-2-1900-reversing-chicago-river-95172" target="_blank">that drainage headed to the lake</a>; now most of it goes through some treatment and separation, and gets deposited into waterways connected to the Illinois and Chicago Rivers. But during a storm, the whole system can become quickly overwhelmed, and when it overflows, the overflow (politely called a Combined Sewer Overflow or CSO by the MWRD) is a mix of rain water and raw sewage.</p><p>The MWRD has been working since the 1970s on what&rsquo;s called the &ldquo;Deep Tunnel&rdquo; project or TARP (Tunnel and Reservoir Plan) that involves constructing a humongous system of tunnels, some as wide as 33 feet, connected to reservoirs designed to store overflow water. The 109 miles of underground tunnels are complete, but the last of the reservoirs won&rsquo;t be complete until 2029. MWRD says the construction of the TARP has reduced the numbers of days with combined sewer overflows from 100 per year to 50 per year on average.</p><p>But Chicago floods may also be addressed by community-based and development solutions.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a collective problem, rather than just an individual property problem,&rdquo; said Harriet Festing, director of the water program at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT).</p><p>CNT is researching the prevalence and cost of flooding in the Chicago area by gathering insurance claim data and <a href="http://www.cnt.org/water/" target="_blank">personal stories about flooding experiences</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;Forty-two percent of Cook County is impervious...that&rsquo;s our parking lots, our streets, our sidewalks. And that&rsquo;s just volumes of rain running off those areas and into our backyards and our basements,&rdquo; Festing said.</p><p>As long as that volume of runoff has nowhere to go, using personal funds to build a more waterproof basement or better drainage in your own backyard is tantamount to swimming upstream in the Calumet River (and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-area-waterways-slated-clean-105467" target="_blank">you don&rsquo;t want to do that</a>).</p><p>According to Festing, development that takes water runoff into account can go a long way in preventing increased flood risk in urban areas; rain barrels, rain gardens and small-scale projects in individual homes can also make a difference if they&rsquo;re installed across an entire neighborhood.</p><p>MWRD has been taking public comments on a proposed watershed management ordinance since 2009, and plans to release a complete draft this spring. If passed, the ordinance would authorize a more proactive district-wide approach to new development that would better absorb storm water and protect people from flooding.</p><p>Not flooded out yet? WBEZ&rsquo;s Chris Bentley has more on the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174" target="_blank">links between flooding and climate change</a>.</p><p>And you can get tips from <a href="http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/" target="_blank">the federal government</a> and from the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/water/supp_info/basement_floodingpartnership.html" target="_blank">City of Chicago</a> on how to deal with flooding in your area.&nbsp;</p><p>Follow <a href="https://twitter.com/LewisPants" target="_blank">Lewis Wallace on Twitter</a>.</p></p> Tue, 19 Mar 2013 17:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/flooding-drought-year-106171 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 Front and Center: How Chicago's excrement is killing fish in the Gulf of Mexico http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-06-23/front-and-center-how-chicagos-excrement-killing-fish-gulf-mexico-88234 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-June/2011-06-23/Gabe Getty Joe Raedle.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Water has created prosperity in the Midwest, but it has also unleashed destructive forces. In this installment of&nbsp;<a href="frontandcenter" target="_blank">Front and Center</a>, WBEZ’s Gabriel Spitzer explained why what we flush is coming back to haunt us. He joined Alison Cuddy from Lacon, Illinois, some 130 miles southwest of Chicago.</em></p><p>The Illinois River is contaminated with heavy amounts of "nutrient pollution," chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorus are causing problems along waterways from Illinois all the way to Louisiana.&nbsp;</p><p>The chemicals, used commonly in fertilizer, allow algae and water plants to grow at an increased rate. As the aquatic flora bloom and die, the breakdown process sucks up the oxygen in the water, leaving behind "dead water" -- and dead fish.</p><p>Although agriculture accounts for the majority of nutrient pollution, Chicago is a major contributor of nutrient pollution in the Illinois River.&nbsp; In short: Chicago's sewage, by way of the Chicago River, accounts for 3/4 of the phosphorus, according to Professor Mark David of the University of Illinois.&nbsp; That amounts to about one pound of phosphorus per person, per year, in the Chicago area with a population of close to six million.</p><p>Even worse, the phosphorus is channeled from the Chicago River, through the Illinois River into the Mississippi River -- eventually ending up in the Gulf of Mexico.&nbsp; The abundance creates a so-called "dead zone," where countless fish are killed at the mouth of the Mississippi River. This year's dead zone is anticipated to be the size of New Hampshire, the biggest forecast to date.</p><p>Although the pollution is mostly agricultural, on the watershed level, Chicago is the single largest contributor to the dead zone, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.&nbsp; These dead zones are a major unintended consequence of linking the Great Lakes, via Chicago, to the Mississippi River.</p><p>The environmental damage is prompting regulators and interested groups to advocate for enhanced measures at wastewater treatment plants to remove the nitrogen and phosphorus. Officials anticipate regulation to curb nutrient levels will cost billions in the Chicago area alone.</p></p> Thu, 23 Jun 2011 13:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-06-23/front-and-center-how-chicagos-excrement-killing-fish-gulf-mexico-88234