WBEZ | drought http://www.wbez.org/tags/drought Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en In Dayton, Ohio an economic comeback is in the water http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/dayton-ohio-economic-comeback-water-110520 <p><p>Dayton&rsquo;s Mad River wellfield is on a grassy island in the middle of one of the city&rsquo;s three major rivers. Phil Van Atta, head of Dayton&rsquo;s water treatment operation, says the wellfield, where Dayton pumps up groundwater from the <a href="https://www.miamiconservancy.org/water/aquifer_what.asp">Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer,</a> is one of his favorite places. The shallow sand and gravel aquifer in some places lies just feet below the ground, and its 1.5 trillion gallons of freshwater is constantly recharging from the rivers and rainfall.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve got loads of capacity now,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We would love to see more demand, more industry come in. Not just to increase their demand for water, but also so there are more jobs available to people in this area.&rdquo;</p><p>Dayton is Ohio&rsquo;s sixth-largest city, but its population has stagnated in recent years due to the foreclosure crisis and loss of industry. In Dayton, both crises hit years before they tore apart the national economy. But now the city may be on the cutting edge again. As states like California face major water shortages, city officials in Dayton sense a business opportunity.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483">Drought drives drilling frenzy for groundwater in California</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Almost all local jurisdictions draw from the Great Miami Aquifer, and Dayton&rsquo;s water treatment system serves 400,000 in the city and surrounding Montgomery and Greene Counties. It&rsquo;s no Lake Michigan, but the self-filtering, self-recharging freshwater supply, along with the rivers, once made Dayton attractive to water-intensive industries in the 19th century.</p><p>Mills, factories, and countless little breweries lined the river before Prohibition, and Dayton was a hub of innovation and wealth. The airplane, the cash register, the self-start automobile ignition, and the pop-top soda can were all invented here. But now that&rsquo;s just a distant memory.</p><p>&ldquo;We lost all the GM plants and the Delphi plants and the parts plants associated with those plants,&rdquo; says Van Atta, turning the truck onto the gravel road that makes a loop around the island.</p><p>Tens of thousands of jobs evaporated &mdash; the final blow was when GM left in 2008. &ldquo;That was a big hit on our water demand,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Now Dozens of out-of-use wells dot this island; Van Atta says they rotate them in and out of use following a reduction in demand of over 25 percent since 2008.</p><p>And yet, Dayton is betting that in the future, water will be the key to turning things around.</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/Dayton%20Water%201843.jpg" title="Water sits in softening ponds at the Dayton water treatment plant. The system's two wellfields supply water for 400,000 people in the area from the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer. (Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&#39;We&#39;re running into limits&#39;</span></p><p>U.S. census numbers reveal that in recent years the population has been <a href="http://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/043/">virtually flat or shrinking in places like Ohio, Illinois and Michigan</a>, where there&rsquo;s tons of water. The biggest areas of growth are in the west and <a href="https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb13-94.html">southwest</a>, where water scarcity is a growing emergency. Parts of Texas have seen the worst droughts on record for four years and counting, and California&rsquo;s facing much the same.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re running into limits,&rdquo; says Peter Gleick, the head of the <a href="http://pacinst.org/">Pacific Institute</a>, a nonprofit research organization in Oakland, California. &ldquo;The Colorado River no longer reaches the sea in an average year because humans use all of the flow. We&rsquo;re over-pumping groundwater aquifers in the western U.S...In the past we&rsquo;ve sort of assumed enough water would always be available, and I think we can no longer assume that&rsquo;s going to be the case.&rdquo;</p><p>The parched conditions are affecting everything from food prices to energy spending and the intensity of wildfires. Climate change means this is probably just the beginning.</p><blockquote><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/158677537&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe><strong>Related: <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/water-issues-in-the-west-could">What water issues in California mean for the Midwest</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>&ldquo;Some of these south-western cities that not only have water scarcity problems but are gonna start to see more and more costs for energy, for cooling, more and more uncomfortable extreme heat days,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;In that kind of situation I think it&rsquo;s possible that we may see a change in the kind of migration we&rsquo;ve seen over the latter part of the 20th century, maybe back to some of these population centers in the midwest and in the east.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Dayton calling</span></p><p>&ldquo;Back to the midwest&rdquo; &mdash; that phrase is music to Karen Thomas&rsquo;s ears. Thomas is the head of water marketing for Dayton (yes, that&rsquo;s actually a job).</p><p>&ldquo;We have an abundant water source,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t believe that we would have to worry about water.&rdquo;</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/Dayton%20Water%201750.jpg" title="The Mad River wellfield in Dayton sits on a wooded island between heavily industrial areas in northeast Dayton. (Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p>The water in the vast underground aquifer is usually out of sight, but it&rsquo;s up to Thomas to make it visible, and sell it. Efforts in the last few years have included a <a href="http://www.daytonwater.org/uploads/docs/SWPA%20Brochure.pdf">&ldquo;Take Back the Tap&rdquo;</a> campaign to encourage citizens to use Dayton tap water rather than bottled water. Officials have also reached out to companies in water-stressed areas, pushing Dayton as a cheap alternative.</p><p>Thomas thinks this is what could put Dayton back on the map.</p><p>&ldquo;Water is a public good, but it&rsquo;s also a commodity,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>An economic development team in Dayton has conducted talks with several food processors, manufacturers, and beverage makers that could use an inexpensive and abundant supply of water. Companies that choose Dayton would face little of the regulation placed on water diversions in the Great Lakes basin; here, if you can drill a well, you can drain it.</p><p>&ldquo;If they&rsquo;re looking for water, this would be a great place to relocate to,&rdquo; says Thomas.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">You can&#39;t make beer without water</span></p><p>Dayton&rsquo;s water pitch may sound like something out of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, but it&rsquo;s not all that far-fetched.</p><p>&ldquo;You know people turn on the tap and they think water&rsquo;s free, they just assume it&rsquo;s gonna be there,&rdquo; says Peter Kruger, master brewer at <a href="http://bearrepublic.com/news/using-space-technology-to-conserve-water/#.U8fOR41dWKI">Bear Republic brewery</a> in California, north of San Francisco.</p><p>&ldquo;There was a period in early February where the governor listed 17 cities in California that were within a hundred days of running out of water,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;and our brewpub in Healdsburg was one of those towns, and our production brewery in Cloverdale was another.&rdquo;</p><p>In the brewing industry, water isn&rsquo;t negotiable &mdash; most of it is used for cleaning equipment and of course for the beer itself, which is why Kruger is nervous. I called him to hear about the work they&rsquo;re doing to conserve, but he says they are actually considering a move.</p><p>&ldquo;We have talked about other locations for a brewery that are not as water-stressed as California is.&rdquo;</p><p>They&rsquo;ve looked at Pennsylvania, Wisconsin &mdash; and yes, even Ohio.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/california-drought-renews-debate-regional-food-systems-110497" target="_blank">Will California drought prompt more Midwest agriculture?</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>But Karen Hobbs, a <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/khobbs/">senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council</a> is not on board with this idea.</p><p>&ldquo;These are difficult economic times. But the troubling part about marketing water resources I think is that it tends to devalue that asset,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Hobbs thinks clean water in the Great Lakes region comes too cheap. In Chicago, almost 2 billion gallons of water a day leave Lake Michigan for use in homes and industry, and drain into the Chicago River, never to be returned or recycled.</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/Dayton%20Water%201848.JPG" title="Karen Thomas, the city of Dayton's full-time water marketer, holds up a brochure advertising Dayton's water supply. (Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p>Plus, the midwest is not immune to the effects of climate change, like drought or huge storms and floods, which can affect water quality as well as quantity. She says before companies just move to where the water is, they should work harder to reduce, reuse and recycle.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s lots, lots of low-hanging fruit in terms of improving water efficiency and increasing conservation that companies and individuals can take,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>But Peter Kruger says Bear Republic Brewery is doing a lot of that already (Hobbs actually referred me to its conservation efforts.)</p><p>&ldquo;Traditionally breweries have used anywhere from 10 to 15 gallons of water to make one gallon of beer,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Our ratio now is down to 3.5 gallons of water to make a gallon of beer.&rdquo; They get their water from the Russian River, which has been dramatically low; the company is now putting its own money into sinking a well to access groundwater at the edge of town.</p><p>Still, their water use may not be sustainable in the long run. Kruger says he&rsquo;d hate to leave beautiful sunny California, but this year has been a reality check.</p><p>&ldquo;Water is really gonna be the challenge our kids and grandkids deal with,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;As there are more people there&rsquo;s not gonna be more and more water, there&rsquo;s gonna be less and less clean water. That&rsquo;s anywhere. That includes Ohio or, you know, the wettest place in the world.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Betting on a future where water is king</span></p><p>Some people in Dayton believe they&rsquo;re walking on a liquid gold mine: people may have lost jobs, people, and whole industries, but the Great Miami aquifer is still here.</p><p>Though not entirely unthreatened: In the 1980s, the drinking water in Dayton was found to be contaminated with dangerous levels of industrial chemicals. A 1987 fire at a Sherwin Williams paint warehouse had to be allowed to burn for days on end to avoid dousing the plant&rsquo;s chemicals directly into the aquifer near the wellfield.</p><p>Following the fire, Dayton and the surrounding municipalities that use the water system passed stringent drinking water protections that incentivize industry to keep chemical contaminants away from the wellfields. Still, today the city sometimes cleans up industrial chemicals including trichloroethylene (TCE) from the water before it&rsquo;s sent to the tap.</p><p>Now a handful of local manufacturers are pushing to reduce some of those protections, saying the chemical limits treat smaller businesses unfairly. The city says reduced demand on the wellfields has shrunk the area in need of active protection, and has <a href="http://wyso.org/post/dayton-discuss-proposed-changes-drinking-water-protections">put forth a controversial proposal</a> to reduce that area by 40 percent.</p><p>Even as <a href="http://wyso.org/post/residents-speak-out-against-proposed-water-protection-changes-video">a public debate over water gets underway</a>, Dayton leaders aren&rsquo;t concerned about the future water supply. Karen Thomas&rsquo;s message for master brewer Peter Kruger? Come and get it.</p><p>&ldquo;To be able to turn the faucet on, to get a cup of coffee, to flush your toilet, to take a shower, and the water&rsquo;s there and it&rsquo;s clean, why not love water?&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Especially Dayton water!&rdquo;</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is an economics reporter and host for WYSO, the public radio station for Ohio&rsquo;s Miami Valley region. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/lewispants">@lewispants</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 17 Jul 2014 17:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/dayton-ohio-economic-comeback-water-110520 California drought renews debate on regional food systems http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/california-drought-renews-debate-regional-food-systems-110497 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/DROUGHT MIDWEST.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>At a Chicago area farmers market in July you won&rsquo;t see many signs of the California drought. This is the time of year when produce lovers can pretty much gorge on all the local cherries, blueberries and zucchini they want.</p><p>But this wasn&rsquo;t the case in January.</p><p>&ldquo;What we saw was extremely high prices on kales, leafy greens etc in the first part of the year,&rdquo; said Bob Scaman president of Goodness Greenness the Midwest&rsquo;s biggest distributor of organic produce.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483">Drought drives drilling frenzy for groundwater in California</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>And as the year wore on, Scaman says, the effects of the drought only got worse. Farmers had to decide which crops they were going to water and which they weren&rsquo;t resulting in what he called the California &ldquo;cherry season that didn&rsquo;t exist in 2014.&rdquo;</p><p>Luckily, the Washington State cherry crop was booming this year. And today Michigan cherries have filled any other gaps. But Scaman warns that this bounty will last for only about another 100 days in the Midwest.</p><p>&ldquo;But going into the late fall, early winter when we are relying again on California we are going to be right back where we were on these drought supplies,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and we will be negatively affected back here in the Midwest.&rdquo;</p><p>One Arizona State University study says that the California drought is likely to push items like avocados and lettuce up 28 to 34 percent.&nbsp; And the USDA expects drought and other factors to push domestic food prices for meat and produce up 3 to 6 percent this year.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Business professor Timothy Richards who conducted the Arizona State study noted that the pricier California crops could drive more retailers to source their produce from Mexico and Chile. But others think we should go the other way and reestablish more regional food systems again.</p><p>&ldquo;This is the ideal storm for the local food network in the Midwest,&rdquo; Scaman said. &ldquo;It really brings home what people have been talking about for years: the need to grow more local food, stabilize the food supply and build the local market.&rdquo;</p><blockquote><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/158677537&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe><strong>Related: <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/water-issues-in-the-west-could">What water issues in California mean for the Midwest</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Adding to the drought problems this year were high summer gas prices that further argued for more localized food production.<br /><br />&ldquo;So not only is there less product but we are paying more to transport it from California,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;You&rsquo;ve got a double whammy coming at us. So when you look at local food supplies, we&rsquo;ve got a little more stability in getting it to the marketplace, lesser freight costs and we are growing our local economies.&rdquo;</p><p>Terra Brockman founded the Land Connection, a local non-profit that helps train Midwest farmers. She says that while the drought hasn&rsquo;t made big waves among local farmers so far, it has revived important questions.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Like, &lsquo;Why do we have plenty of farmers market farmers and CSA farmers but not enough people growing at a slightly bigger scale that could produce quantities of fruits and vegetables that could go into our grocery stores and school cafeterias and other institutions where people are shopping and eating,&rdquo; Brockman said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a question of building infrastructure and putting together policies and funding to make that happen.&rdquo;</p><p>Brockman says that Land Connection has recently applied for grants to teach Midwest farmers techniques for extending the notoriously short growing season.</p><p>Bob Borchardt of Harvest Moons Farm in Wisconsin says he is already using some of them and investigating others.</p><p>&ldquo;Some kind of controlled environment growing is really the answer,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;whether it be greenhouses or hoop houses or inside and vertical gardens. Anything that we can do to push more local product into the non-conventional farming months here in the Midwest I think are things that need to be on top of our list as producers.&rdquo;</p><p>Brockman notes that farmers can also extend the seasons by planting varieties of vegetables that mature early or late in the season.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s like an early broccoli and a late broccoli,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;One that comes to fruition earlier and later. Just not putting your eggs in one basket or not just planting one kind of broccoli you can sort of insure yourself from whatever the season might be.&rdquo;</p><p>But she says the drought isn&rsquo;t the only water related issue causing debate in Midwest agricultural circles.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re concerned about water then you have to be concerned about agriculture because the thing that affects our water quality the most of anything in this state is agriculture,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>&ldquo;So that&rsquo;s everything from erosion and soil washing into our rivers and silting them up and making them inhospitable for river life, and especially the run off. So in Illinois the main source of pollution in our waterways is industrial farming, and the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that runs off that becomes a dead zone the size of Delaware in the Gulf of Mexico is due to runoff from Illinois and Midwest corn fields.&rdquo;</p><p>Brockman hopes that concern for our waterways will prompt Midwest farmers to swap synthetic fertilizers for crop rotations that take longer but can fertilize the soil naturally.</p><p>Scaman, however, has aspirations that go one step further. Given the growing demand for local produce and the richness of Illinois soil, he hopes the drought might convince some corn and soy farmers--whose harvests go primarily to processed food, animal feed and ethanol tanks--to grow crops suitable for local human consumption.</p><p>&ldquo;Years and years ago, Illinois as an example was one of the largest vegetable growing states in the country,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t necessarily need to just grow soybeans and corn. There is a need for vegetable production here in the Midwest to supply Chicago and other cities. And it provides a lot of economic opportunities for rural communities. So [the drought] has really brought that need to the forefront. You are seeing more and more farmers every year and more local produce. And the demand for local is off the charts.&rdquo;</p></p> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/california-drought-renews-debate-regional-food-systems-110497 Drought drives drilling frenzy for groundwater in California http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rig_DeLaCruz_SK.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>The drought in California may be thousands of miles away, but it&rsquo;s having a direct effect on the rest of the country, including the Great Lakes region. </em></p><p><em>As part of our Front &amp; Center series, we&rsquo;ll be reporting on that all week.</em><em> But first we take you back to California, which grows nearly 50 percent of the nation&rsquo;s produce.</em><em> </em></p><p><em>The situation for farmers and ranchers has become so dire there&rsquo;s a potentially dangerous drilling boom going on. Not for oil or gas. For water. </em></p><blockquote><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/158677537&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe><strong>Related: <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/water-issues-in-the-west-could">What water issues in California mean for the Midwest</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Steve Arthur practically lives out of his truck these days. But he&rsquo;s not homeless. He runs one of Fresno&rsquo;s busiest well drilling companies.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s officially getting crazy. We go and we go but it just seems like we can&rsquo;t go fast enough,&rdquo; he says, sitting behind the steering wheel as he hustles up and down Highway 99 to check on drilling rigs that run 24 hours a day, probing for water.</p><p>Some days, Arthur doesn&rsquo;t even have time to stop for gas; he&rsquo;s got an extra tank hooked up to the flatbed of his pickup. He says he&rsquo;s lucky if he gets three hours of sleep a night.</p><p>&ldquo;Toward the end of the week, I start to get run down pretty good,&rdquo; he sighs. &ldquo;On a Friday afternoon, you might see me parked on the side of the road taking a cat nap.&rdquo;</p><p>Counties in the farm-rich Central Valley are issuing record numbers of permits for new water wells. Arthur says his company&rsquo;s got an eight-month waiting list. Some of his competitors are backlogged more than a year. Drillers like Arthur say they&rsquo;re even busier than they were during the drought of 1977, when Californians drilled 28 thousand new wells.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/california-drought-renews-debate-regional-food-systems-110497">Will California drought prompt a stronger Midwest food system?</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>&ldquo;This is off the scales, here,&rdquo; says Arthur, shaking his head. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just amazing, the amount of people that call and want wells. A customer called this morning and I&rsquo;m supposed to do two for him, and he said, &lsquo;Add 14 to the list.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;You have to literally grab these guys and drag &lsquo;em to your property and say &lsquo;Please, please drill me a well!,&rsquo;&rdquo; laments citrus farmer Matt Fisher, who&rsquo;s been scrambling to keep his trees alive after learning that he won&rsquo;t get any water from federal reservoirs this year.</p><p>&ldquo;I have even heard of drilling companies that won&rsquo;t tell growers who&rsquo;s in front of them, because guys are trying to buy the other guy&rsquo;s spot in line,&rdquo; says Fisher. &ldquo;Its crazy, some of the things that are going on, but if you&rsquo;re in our shoes, and you have to pay a guy $10,000 for his spot in line, that&rsquo;s cheap compared to what you&rsquo;re going to lose if you lose your whole orchard.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s not always about losing trees, though. Right where a brand new almond orchard will be planted in rural Fresno County, a 70-foot high drilling rig bores a hole in the earth 2,500 feet deep. This well will cost the farmer about a million dollars.</p><p>Juan de La Cruz works on this rig 12 hours a day, seven days a week, carefully guiding the drill bit. He&rsquo;s standing in a little hut next to the drill hole that they call &lsquo;the doghouse.&rsquo; It&rsquo;s where workers keep a log of the layers of sand and clay they find, collecting samples every ten feet as the drill probes deeper.</p><p>It&rsquo;s also home to two other essential pieces of gear: a microwave and a fridge.</p><p>&ldquo;This is basically where we live while we&rsquo;re working,&rdquo; says De La Cruz in Spanish. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve got some nopales (cacti) and zucchinis in here to cook up. The farmers bring us cantaloupes, tomatoes, whatever we want. They are so grateful because when we&rsquo;re done with this well, these fields will have water.&rdquo;</p><p>Bob Zimmerer&rsquo;s company, Zim Industries, owns this rig and a dozen others. He knows there&rsquo;s a silver lining to the drought for well drillers this year. But he knows it can&rsquo;t last forever.</p><p>&ldquo;We can&rsquo;t keep sustaining this amount of overdraft, we all know that,&rdquo; says Zimmerer, standing on the platform next to the drill. &ldquo;At this point in time, we don&rsquo;t want to keep going on at this pace. It&rsquo;s more of a temporary fix.&rdquo;</p><p>That&rsquo;s a sobering admission from a well driller.</p><p>California&rsquo;s aquifers supply 40 percent of the state&rsquo;s water in normal years but in this drought year, it could be closer to 65 percent. That makes it our biggest water reserve &ndash;- bigger than the Sierra snowpack.</p><p>Scientists are already sounding alarm bells about pumping too much groundwater. State water managers estimate that water tables in some parts of the Valley have dropped 100 feet below historical lows. As water levels sink, the land can sink, too &mdash; in some places by about a foot per year. Groundwater pumping could also put more stress on the San Andreas Fault.</p><p>That&rsquo;s not the only seismic consequence.</p><p>&ldquo;We are a one-way trajectory towards depletion. Toward running out of groundwater in the Central Valley,&rdquo; warns Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist at UC Irvine. He points out that California is the only western state that doesn&rsquo;t really monitor or regulate how much groundwater farmers and residents are using.</p><p>&ldquo;If you own property, you can dig a well and you can pump as much groundwater as you a want,&rdquo; says Famiglietti, &ldquo;even if that means you are drawing water in from beneath your neighbor&rsquo;s property into your well. So it&rsquo;s not unlike having several straws in a glass, and everyone drinking at the same time, and no one really watching the level.&rdquo;</p><p>That could change. A bill making its way through the state legislature could, for the first time ever, require local agencies to track, and in some cases, even restrict groundwater pumping. Some farmers oppose it, saying it&rsquo;s a violation of their property rights.</p><p>But retired attorney and water activist Jerry Cadagan says counties should be thinking hard right now about the permits they&rsquo;re giving to farmers to drill thousands of new wells.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;ve got to put reasonable restrictions so people are only pumping out a reasonable amount of water that underlies their land,&rdquo; says Cadagan, who lives in Stanislaus County, and is suing farmers there for drilling wells without considering the environmental impact. &ldquo;Groundwater is like a bank account. You can&rsquo;t take out more than you put in on an ongoing basis.&rdquo;</p><p>Farmers too, are starting to worry. In Merced County, farm leaders are trying to stop two private landowners from selling as much as 7 billion gallons of well water to farmers in another county. They call it &ldquo;groundwater mining.&rdquo;</p></p> Mon, 14 Jul 2014 05:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483 EcoMyths: Myth-If Water Runs Low, We Can Get More Elsewhere http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-myth-if-water-runs-low-we-can-get-more-elsewhere-110095 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/EcoMyths-Water Supply_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>For our regular EcoMyths segment, in honor of World Water Day, we thought we&#39;d take a hard look at two very different watersheds&mdash;and the very similar reasons that experts believe that using water where it falls is key to sustaining water supply.<iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/140238248&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><strong>A Tale of Two Regions: The Thirsty Old West and the Great Lakes&nbsp;</strong></p><p>While parched California&#39;s dreamin&#39; all about rain, in the Great Lakes, the jaw-stopping chill that was the Polar Vortex is actually helping increase the region&#39;s long-term water supply. It&#39;s a striking difference, with the West languishing in drought, and the Great Lakes as seemingly water-rich as ever.</p><p>So what can we do to even the playing field between water-rich and thirsty states? At first glance, the possibilities might seem limitless, from piping in water from elsewhere to desalinating what&#39;s already nearby to simply conserving what we&#39;ve got. We set out to solve the problem of water shortage&hellip;but remembering we are mere mortals, contented ourselves with burrowing into the rabbit hole of water policy to give you a basic picture of different opportunities.</p><p>To help navigate the waters, we turned to Jared Teutsch, J.D., water policy advocate at <a href="http://www.greatlakes.org/Document.Doc?id=1017">Alliance for the Great Lakes</a>. He&#39;ll talk about about water conservation efforts, locally and internationally, from Chicago to China.</p></p> Tue, 18 Mar 2014 10:44:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-myth-if-water-runs-low-we-can-get-more-elsewhere-110095 Wet weather not hurting Illinois farmers http://www.wbez.org/news/wet-weather-not-hurting-illinois-farmers-107963 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/illinoiscorn.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois farmers lost a lot of money last year when crops were unable to withstand the drought and high temperatures.</p><p>But Illinois has had plenty of rain this year. In fact it has had the wettest six months of the year on record.</p><p>According to John Hawkins of the Illinois Farm Bureau, rain has delayed planting.</p><p>&ldquo;Normally by the 4th of July we&rsquo;re just entering the pollination stage for corn. That&rsquo;s the critical stage to developing the crop. Last year at this time we had half the crop pollinated. This year we&rsquo;re nowhere near there. We have less than 1 percent entering pollination stage. It will probably be the middle of July when we get to that critical stage.&rdquo;</p><p>Hawkins isn&rsquo;t worried though. With lots of rain and mild temperatures, he expects a great yield for corn.</p><p>&ldquo;You couldn&rsquo;t ask for better conditions across illinois,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Soybean crops are also benefiting from the increased moisture, Hawkins said, but the true weather test will come in August.</p><p>Hawkins said soybeans do much better in warmer temperatures.</p><p><em>Mariam Sobh is the midday and weekend news anchor at WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/mariamsobh" target="_blank">@mariamsobh</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 08 Jul 2013 07:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/wet-weather-not-hurting-illinois-farmers-107963 A push to stop wasting Lake Michigan water http://www.wbez.org/news/push-stop-wasting-lake-michigan-water-107046 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Water loss_130507_LW.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has proposed an update to the rules for diverting water from Lake Michigan. Northeast Illinois takes hundreds of millions of gallons of water out of the lake daily for municipal use and for diversion into the Chicago area waterway system, but a great deal of the diverted water actually escapes through leaky pipes.</p><p>&ldquo;We waste a lot of money pumping, treating, distributing water that never gets sold,&rdquo; said Josh Ellis of the non-profit Metropolitan Planning Council.</p><p>Ellis estimates that as much as 70 million gallons a day are lost to leaks in aging infrastructure across the region. That&rsquo;s the equivalent of a Willis Tower full of water every few days, a loss that may not be sustainable as the regional population grows or new municipalities in northeast Illinois move to using Lake Michigan water.</p><p>&ldquo;The time to start thinking and figuring out what needs to be done is now,&rdquo; said Daniel Injerd, the chief of Lake Michigan management for IDNR. &ldquo;We need, as an agency, to try to send a stronger message to communities to say it&rsquo;s really time to start looking at water loss.&rdquo;</p><p>IDNR is in charge of the permits for all Illinois entities who get water out of Lake Michigan, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and for the first time since 1980, the agency is proposing a significant change to the permitting policy. Rather than allowing a certain amount of leakage based on the age of the pipes in a village, town, or city, the new permitting process would require municipalities to account for all their water -- or submit a detailed plan for how to update aging infrastructure. Injerd says more than half of the 215 agencies that now have water allocation permits would be in violation of the leakage limits under the new rule.</p><p>The revised water diversion rule also includes more strict limitations on sprinkler use and requirements for water-efficient plumbing in new construction. Finally, the proposed documents suggests, but does not require, that municipalities adjust the price of water to reflect the real cost of moving and treating water and of upgrading water infrastructure.</p><p>Ellis thinks the proposed changes should go even further.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now most water rate systems don&rsquo;t generate enough revenue to cover the full costs of providing water services,&rdquo; said Ellis. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re paying for the pipes, the pumps, the chemicals, the electricity...we feel that IDNR, through its permit conditions can prompt more municipalities to develop rate systems that generate enough revenue to pay for these things.&rdquo;</p><p>Short of raising prices or pulling from other revenue sources, right now municipalities have to seek out state loans to support infrastructure upgrades.</p><p>But Injerd says IDNR is not planning to impose requirements on water pricing.</p><p>&ldquo;Probably most of our permittees think that&rsquo;s not an area we need to delve into,&rdquo; said Injerd. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s really not our role as a state agency to set water rates. But I have no problem recommending that communities develop a water rate that represents the true cost of providing a water supply.&rdquo;</p><p>A 1967 Supreme Court decision limited Illinois&rsquo; water diversion from the lake, and it&rsquo;s the role of the DNR to see that what the state pulls out doesn&rsquo;t exceed that limit. A full quarter of the water diverted by Illinois is <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-announces-new-flood-control-project-some-say-plans-need-adapt-climate-change-106791" target="_blank">stormwater runoff</a> that would have been returned to Lake Michigan via the waterways before the Chicago River was engineered to flow out of the lake in 1900.</p><p>Public comment on the <a href="http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/WaterResources/Pages/LakeMichiganWaterAllocation.aspx" target="_blank">proposed water allocation rule change</a> is open through the end of May, and the Metropolitan Planning Council will be holding an <a href="http://www.metroplanning.org/news-events/event/219" target="_blank">event Tuesday May 8</a> to discuss Lake Michigan water loss.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants.</a></em></p></p> Tue, 07 May 2013 07:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/push-stop-wasting-lake-michigan-water-107046 Soil moisture back to normal, now rain hampering Illinois farmers http://www.wbez.org/news/soil-moisture-back-normal-now-rain-hampering-illinois-farmers-106697 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Moisture_130417_LW.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>It&rsquo;s sprouting time across the state and farmers are breathing a sigh of relief as soil moisture in Illinois returns to normal after a year of uncertainty. Spring of 2012 was marked by arid, warm weather that led into one of the hottest summers on record and a drought that continued through the winter. Illinois farmers&rsquo; concerns about planting conditions for the spring planting season have scarcely subsided, but the forecast is better than it has been for a long time.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now, we are pretty much seeing normal levels across the state, which is a lot better than what we were seeing at this time last year,&rdquo; said Jennie Atkins of the Illinois State Water Survey, which monitors soil moisture daily. Above-average precipitation in January and February made up for a middling fall, and stormy weather this week can&rsquo;t hurt moisture, either.</p><p>&ldquo;After last year, soil moisture is a very precious commodity in the state,&rdquo; said John Hawkins of the Illinois Farm Bureau.</p><p>But there&rsquo;s also a downside to the influx of rain. There were flood warnings and severe storms in parts of Illinois Tuesday, and now many farmers have to wait for warmer, drier weather to plant.</p><p>&ldquo;When you have a lot of rain and flood it definitely affects the larger crop productions,&rdquo; said Toni Anderson, the organizer of Sacred Keepers Sustainability Garden in Chicago&rsquo;s Bronzeville neighborhood. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t necessarily have to worry about that in the city because we need every drop we can get.&rdquo;</p><p>She says the sandy soil on Martin Luther King Avenue on Chicago&rsquo;s south side drains easily, and the garden&rsquo;s focus on native species means they can tolerate weather extremes. But given concerns about climate change, she&rsquo;s not necessarily jumping for joy about yet another swing of the weather pendulum.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s refreshing and scary all at the same time,&rdquo; Anderson said.&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 17 Apr 2013 15:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/soil-moisture-back-normal-now-rain-hampering-illinois-farmers-106697 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 With all this snow, are we still in a drought? http://www.wbez.org/news/all-snow-are-we-still-drought-105764 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F80963211" width="100%"></iframe></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/IllinoisFarmSnow.jpg" style="float: right; height: 232px; width: 350px;" title="A snowy farm in Illinois. (Flickr/mmarcotte51)" />Chicago is gearing up for yet another winter storm that&#39;s already dumped more than foot of snow from Texas to Oklahoma. While you may think of the snow as a big hassle, farmers across the state are cheering.</div><p>For the first time in seven months, Sugar Grove farmer Steve Ruh is getting so much rain and snow that his field&rsquo;s drainage system is helping put moisture back into the waterways.</p><p>&quot;They&rsquo;re replenishing the creeks, and they&rsquo;ve actually replenished the Illinois and the Mississippi River enough where we&rsquo;ve been able to actually ship grain out via the river, which we haven&rsquo;t been able to do the last few months, because the water had been so low,&quot; he explained.</p><p>Ruh farms in total about 3,200 acres, just west of Aurora in Sugar Grove and at another farm near Champaign.</p><p>&quot;We&rsquo;re almost ahead of schedule as far as moisture,&quot; he said. &quot;But, we had a lot to make up for.&quot;</p><p>The National Weather Service says the Chicago area is about 2.65 inches above normal so far this year. Rockford is 2.95 inches.</p><p>State climatologist Jim Angel said even though the USDA Drought Monitor still shows part of the northern and western areas of the state in drought conditions, that likely hasn&#39;t taken into account recent rain and snow.</p><p>&quot;January was a very wet month,&quot; he said, adding that gave the topsoil a good soaking. &quot;It&rsquo;s that area two or three feet below that needs to get moisture and we&rsquo;re pretty close to that.&quot;</p><p>Angel, ironically, was at a conference today at Purdue University speaking to farmers about the weather. This is the time of year he travels around visiting farms, and he said he many farmers are optimistic about this year.</p><p>Steve Ruh is, too.</p><p>&quot;We are replenishing and today&rsquo;s heavy wet snow is definitely a Godsend,&quot; he said.</p></p> Tue, 26 Feb 2013 11:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/all-snow-are-we-still-drought-105764 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