WBEZ | rivers http://www.wbez.org/tags/rivers 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 Canadian oil is boosting Midwest economy, but at what cost? http://www.wbez.org/content/canadian-oil-boosting-midwest-economy-what-cost <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/frontandcenter/photo/2011-07-06/88792/oilsands_Refinery1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Last weekend, an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled about 1000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana. For those in the Midwest, it’s a reminder of last summer’s bigger pipeline break in Michigan. This region’s pipelines increasingly carry a thick, tar-like crude from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada. It’s a booming industry, creating jobs and boosting profits in the Midwest. But some worry about the bigger risk to the region’s health and environment.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-06/oilsands_Refinery3.jpg" title="Photo by Adee Braun" width="600" height="400"><br> &nbsp;</p><p><strong>THE JOBS</strong><br> <br> You don’t have to tell Detroiters like Jeff Collins that jobs are hard to come by in that city.<br> “I have been unemployed really since October ’07,” he says.<br> <img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-06/oilsands_Jeff Collins.jpg" style="width: 250px; height: 368px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;" title="Photo by Adee Braun"></p><p>He’s a construction worker, one of the worst-hit industries in perhaps the worst-hit city.</p><p>On a recent Friday morning, Collins and about 50 other Detroit electrical workers are milling about the basement of their union hall. They wait for their names to be called and hope to land something. There are eight openings this day at Detroit’s expanding Marathon oil refinery. The list of guys hoping for work there is 1700 long.</p><p>“Well I’m too far back on the book, I probably won’t get that,” Collins says.</p><p>He says he’s so far back, he’s just there for male bonding.</p><p>A few miles away, that Marathon refinery is a hulking complex of pipes and towers and concrete. And, it’s one of the biggest construction projects in Michigan.<br> <br> <style type="text/css"> div .inline { width: 290px; float: left; margin-right: 19px; margin-left: 3px; clear: left; } div .inlineContent { border-top: 1px dotted #aa211d; border-top-width: 1px; border-top-style: dotted; border-top-color: #aa211d; margin-bottom: 5px; margin-top: 2px; } ul { margin-left: 15px; } li { font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 1em; background-repeat: no-repeat; background-repeat-x: no-repeat; background-repeat-y: no-repeat; background-position: 0 5px; background-position-x: 0px; background-position-y: 5px; padding-left: 3px; margin-bottom: 0.5em; }</style> </p><div class="inline"><div class="inlineContent"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter"><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-28/FNC-inset-promo.jpg" style="width: 280px; height: 50px;" title=""></a><ul><li><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/about-front-and-center-%E2%80%93-depth-reporting-great-lakes-87655">About Front and Center</a></strong></li></ul><p><strong>VIDEO</strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-07-06/kalamazoo-river-one-year-after-spill-video-88811"><br> <img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-07/oilsands_riverclean1.jpg" style="width: 90px; height: 60px; margin-left: 3px; margin-right: 3px; float: left;" title=""><span style="font-weight: bold;">Kalamazoo River:</span><br> <span style="font-weight: bold;">One year after </span><br> <span style="font-weight: bold;">the Spill</span></a><br> &nbsp;</p></div></div><p>Over the next several weeks the series will be examining critical issues centered on water. The first installment takes a look at how the lakes affect our lives.<br> <br> Marathon Oil is spending $2.2 billion to expand and upgrade this refinery so it can process more of the sulfur-rich, tar-like crude that comes in by pipeline from the Canadian oil sands. About 1,300 construction workers will be on the job there by fall. The oil industry says this is just one example of the Canadian oil sands creating jobs here, something it’s been promoting heavily in advertisements. One ad says the Canadian oil sands and the supporting infrastructure in the U.S. “could create more than 342,000 American jobs in the next four years.”</p><p>Peter Howard of the Canadian Energy Research Institute helped the industry come up with those numbers. He projects the oil sands to create 23,000 jobs a year in Illinois, 8000 in Michigan, and 11,000 in Ohio.</p><p>Howard’s numbers include everything from companies like Caterpillar that make the gargantuan trucks used in the oil sands, to food companies that feed the workers. And, there are all the refineries being converted to process the stuff. BP’s Toledo plant is supposed to start an upgrade soon. And, BP’s expanding Whiting, Indiana refinery near Chicago is already employing hundreds of construction workers.</p><p>After the expansions are done, it’s not exactly the bonanza promised in those ads. The oil companies say each refinery will create fewer than 100 new full time jobs.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>THE RISK</strong><br> The oil comes to the refineries by pipeline. Many are owned by a Canadian company called Enbridge. Penny Miller had never heard of that company or its pipelines until last year. One day, she came home from a lunch and saw a sheen on the creek by her home.<br> <img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-06/oilsands_Cleanup4.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 267px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="(Photo by Adee Braun"><br> “The next thing I knew is the Enbridge people came up and said they’re trying to hunt this down,” Miller says. “Then, by the time I came home from work that night, it was really thick and really bad.”<br> <br> A year ago this month, more than 800,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude spilled from an Enbridge pipeline by her house near the Kalamazoo River. The day after the spill, Penny Miller’s dog died from the fumes.<br> <br> Nearby, workers are still cleaning up that spill. In one creek, they use rototillers to stir up the oil and bring it to the surface.</p><p>That’s because this crude from the oil sands is not like other crude. For one thing, it sinks. That’s a reason this cleanup has already cost more than half a billion dollars, and it’s still going.</p><p>"A year ago, there was heavy oil here from bank to bank,” says Ralph Dollhopf of the Environmental Protection Agency, as we go on an airboat ride to survey the Kalamazoo River today. It’s a lot cleaner, but there’s more work to do before kayakers and others who use the river can return.<br> <br> We get to two airboats parked near the edge of the river. Dollhopf asks the workers how it’s going as they stick long poles called “stingers” into the water.<br> <img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-06/oilsands_riverclean3.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 450px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;" title="Photo by Adee Braun"><br> “The idea is to bring the submerged oil up to the top where they can recover it,” Dollhopf explains.<br> <br> Not only did the oil sink, but the EPA says this oil sands crude posed health risks unlike more conventional oil. Benzene and other volatile organics were released into the air. Even today, air quality monitors are out at each cleanup site.<br> <br> Josh Mogerman of the Natural Resources Defense Council says the oil sands are partly to blame for this spill. He says this heavy crude is full of acids and sulfur. And, it travels at a higher temperature and pressure than the conventional crude that used to be the mainstay of these aging pipes. That makes cracks and spills more likely.<br> <br> “You’re basically sandblasting the pipelines from inside the pipe,” Mogerman says.<br> <br> The industry contends there is no significant difference between regular and oil sands crude. Peter Howard of the Canadian Energy Research Institute says pipeline companies go out of their way to minimize the risk of spills.<br> <br> “When you think about the number of barrels of crude that’s shipped around the United States on a daily basis versus the number of spills in the last ten years, it’s just a finite number,” Howard says.<br> <br> Enbridge, though, has had at least five other spills in the US in the last decade, according to Reuters. During that time, the amount of crude from the oil sands being piped from Canada has increased dramatically. Mogerman of the NRDC says that’s putting this region’s rivers and lakes at risk. He points to areas around Lake Superior, the southern end of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie as vulnerabilities.<br> <br> “Additionally, you have issues where the pipelines actually run underneath Lake St Clair or the St Clair River in Southeast Michigan, and awfully close to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore,” he says.<br> <br> But that’s not front of mind at the union hall back in Detroit.<br> <br> Ken Wesley walks out of the office with a job slip in his hand. He had been traveling the country for work. Now, he can work in Detroit, his home.<br> <br> “Going to have a good summer,” he says, smiling. “Family and kids: haven’t seen them in about 8 months.”<br> <br> And, with the Midwest eager to put guys like Ken Wesley back to work, it’s easy see why cities embrace pipelines and refinery expansions, even if the oil sands crude could be putting our waterways and lakes in peril.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-06/oilsands_Refinery4.jpg" title="Photo by Adee Braun" width="600" height="393"><br> &nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 07 Jul 2011 18:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/content/canadian-oil-boosting-midwest-economy-what-cost