WBEZ | drought http://www.wbez.org/tags/drought Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en 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 Climate Change warnings in sharp relief http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/climate-change-warnings-sharp-relief-104942 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/biker640px.jpg" title="Superstorm Sandy caused near-record storm surges in Chicago's Diversey Harbor. (Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>The <a href="http://ncadac.globalchange.gov/">draft of a new report</a> on climate change minces no words. Released Monday for public comment, the draft is the latest in a series of National Climate Assessments requested by Congress.</p><p>&ldquo;Climate change is already affecting the American people,&rdquo; states the opening sentence of the report, written by <a href="http://globalchange.gov/what-we-do/assessment/ncadac">The National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee</a>. &ldquo;Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.&rdquo;</p><p>I have not thoroughly reviewed all 1,193 pages [<a href="http://ncadac.globalchange.gov/download/NCAJan11-2013-publicreviewdraft-fulldraft.pdf">full .pdf</a>] of the draft, but here is a summary of its six &ldquo;Key Messages&rdquo; for the Midwest region:</p><ul><li><strong>Lower agricultural productivity. </strong>Longer growing seasons and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide <a href="http://www.ushrl.saa.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publications.htm?seq_no_115=238766">will increase some crop yields</a>.&nbsp;Those benefits, however, &ldquo;will be increasingly offset by the occurrence of extreme events&rdquo; like heat waves, droughts and floods. <strong><em>But</em>,</strong> we don&rsquo;t know the rate of grain yield improvements, or the degree to which future genetically modified organisms could cope with new conditions.<br />&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Fleeing forests. </strong>Tree species that can will shift northward in pursuit of familiar climatic conditions. That could change local ecosystems and even compromise the Midwest&rsquo;s role as a net carbon absorber.<br />&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Public health risks. </strong>More heat waves, worse air quality and worse water quality (via combined sewer overflows) will result from higher temperatures and the increased occurrence of extreme weather events. <strong><em>But, </em></strong>there are steps we can take. Improving building stock and access to air-conditioning or cooling stations could reduce deaths during heat waves; reducing pollution could blunt the exacerbating effect that higher air temperatures will have on the chemical reactions reducing air quality; and building green infrastructure could reduce the occurrence of combined sewer overflows.<br />&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Eyes on us.</strong> The Midwest relies heavily on coal for electricity generation and our economy is dominated by carbon-intensive agricultural and manufacturing industries, which means the region&rsquo;s per capita emissions are 20 percent higher than the national average. <strong><em>But, </em></strong>those same industries have the most room for carbon emissions reductions.<br />&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Flooding.</strong> Total precipitation is likely to increase, and more of it will fall at once. <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0380133009001841">Expect more extreme weather events</a>, from wetter springs to drier summers. Sea-level rise may not hit Chicago, but &ldquo;Inland cities near large rivers,&rdquo; the report states, &ldquo;also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Great Lakes threatened.</strong> Less ice cover in winter and longer droughts in the summer could further lower average lake levels. Warming waters could change which fish species call the Great Lakes home. Extreme conditions could set the table for invasive species. All that extra rain is likely to diminish beach health and water quality by contributing to pollution from runoff, potentially increasing the frequency of waterborne illnesses and harmful algal blooms. Reduced ice cover could also lengthen the shipping season, but <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/low-water-lake-michigan-could-cause-problems-shipping-industry-104121">low lake levels</a> might increase the cost of shipping freight nonetheless.</li></ul><p>&ldquo;In general,&rdquo; the document reads, &ldquo;climate change will tend to amplify existing risks from climate to people, ecosystems and infrastructure in the Midwest.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/3f-drought.png" title="In addition to producing more extreme precipitation events, climate change is expected to prolong droughts in the Midwest." /></p><p>On the heels of reports <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/15/2012-global-temperatures_n_2479647.html?ir=green&amp;utm_campaign=011513&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=Alert-green&amp;utm_content=Title">that 2012 was the world&#39;s 10th warmest on record</a>, the draft report warns that severe heat waves like the one that claimed 800 lives in Chicago in 1995 <a href="http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1016/j.jglr.2009.12.009">could become a common occurrence</a> by 2100.</p><p>Hurricane Sandy rightly received special mention in the document. That <a href="http://www.startribune.com/blogs/176051131.html">unprecedented storm</a> came at the end of the <a href="http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/the-issue-that-dare-not-speak-its-name/">first presidential campaign since 1988 to not mention climate change</a>. While CNN refrained from using the term &ldquo;frankenstorm&rdquo; in its coverage, climatologist Joe Romm <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/10/28/1101241/cnn-bans-term-frankenstorm-but-its-a-good-metaphor-for-warming-driven-monster-largest-hurricane-in-atlantic-history/">said the metaphor is fitting for this &ldquo;global warming-driven monster.&rdquo;</a></p><p>Extreme weather events <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/health/extremeweather/default.asp">were unusually common in 2012</a>, leading to some hand-wringing in the media over whether or not climate change could be blamed for any particular storm. A helpful analogy is that of&nbsp;<a href="http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/did-climate-change-cause-hurricane-sandy/">loaded dice</a>. Most of the scientifically predicted effects of climate change are explained with varying factors of risk, not &ldquo;if A then always B&rdquo; causation.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/3d-percent-change-heavy-precip.png" title="The draft report predicts more extreme precipitation events." /></div></div><p>&ldquo;The evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last National Climate Assessment report, written in 2009,&rdquo; reads a &ldquo;Letter to the American People&rdquo; that accompanies the report. The authors, led by&nbsp;Jerry Melillo&nbsp;of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., draw on the strongest evidence yet linking climate change to anthropogenic activities such as burning fossil fuels.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/">Climate Action Plan</a> and its <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/supp_info/green_homes/chicago_green_homesprogramresources.html">Green Homes Program</a> get shoutouts in the report&rsquo;s section on climate adaptation. The authors count Chicago among the &ldquo;vanguards in the creation of climate adaptation strategies.&rdquo; Cities may be most at risk, <a href="http://commoncurrent.com/flow/2013/01/14/us-study-on-climate-cities-center-of-risk-opportunity/">the report suggests</a>, but they may also be the most likely source of a solution.</p><p>This report is only a draft, and the authors <a href="http://review.globalchange.gov/">welcome public comment on the document</a> until April 12. It is also subject to &ldquo;extensive review&rdquo; by the National Academy of Sciences. After it undergoes any subsequent revisions, the report will become an advisory document of the federal government.</p></p> Wed, 16 Jan 2013 06:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/climate-change-warnings-sharp-relief-104942 What happens if the water in Lake Michigan keeps disappearing? http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F74159429" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/57022109?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="620"></iframe></p><p>Just how bad are low water levels in Lake Michigan? Well, consider this holiday tale.</p><p>Each December in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, a guy in a Santa suit sets out to deliver a boat load of Christmas trees to nearby Manitowoc. But this year, Santa Claus almost didn&rsquo;t make it <em>out</em> of town.<br /><br />&quot;Santa Claus had to get on top of the boat because he couldn&rsquo;t get inside the boat,&nbsp;cause it was too low so they had to put him on the roof,&quot; says&nbsp;Michael LeClair, the white-haired owner of Susie Q&#39;s, the town&#39;s main commercial fishery.&nbsp;</p><p>&quot;He could walk right off the top of the dock right onto the top of the boat, that&rsquo;s how low the water is...25 trees in the boat and he was sitting on top of the pilot house,&quot; LeClair added. &quot;That&rsquo;s how he got on and off. It&rsquo;s just a problem for everything and everyone.&quot;&nbsp;<br /><br />And it seems to be a problem nearly everywhere along Lake Michigan.</p><p>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron hit record lows in December, at nearly two and a half feet below average. Army Corps projections for lake levels have been dire since September, when it became clear that a relatively warm, dry fall and winter would not provide relief from a long drought and one of the the hottest summers ever.</p><p>Now the water is an inch below its record low for this time of year in 1964, and continues to drop.&nbsp;Shippers, fishermen, and small-town tourist harbors say federal help with digging out channels and repairing infrastructure could keep the low water problem from becoming a crisis.</p><p>At Michael LeClair&rsquo;s sizeable fishing operation, he says the low water has started to hurt his business. Behind the Susie Q&rsquo;s smokehouse, LeClair keeps stacks of large gray plastic bins his fishermen have to lower down from the dock with ropes, fill with smelt, and lift back up.&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6912_392-scr.JPG" style="height: 225px; width: 400px; float: left;" title="Michael LeClair in the back of Susie Q's fishery in Two Rivers (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />&ldquo;It&rsquo;s about three times the work of what it usually is,&rdquo; said LeClair. He also worries that the shallow channel will freeze over entirely this winter, making it impossible to send his boats out for smelt at all. But he&rsquo;s resigned to do what&rsquo;s needed; this is his grandfather&rsquo;s company, and it&#39;s one of the town&rsquo;s biggest employers.</p><p>&ldquo;All we can do is wait. Hope things change.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Great Lakes, shrinking harbors</strong></p><p>&ldquo;All you have to do is go up and down the coast lines and see it,&rdquo; said Chuck May of the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition. &ldquo;You see boats that haven&rsquo;t been able to get out yet this year, we&rsquo;ve got on this lake we&rsquo;ve got a pontoon boat sitting at the end of its 200 foot or so dock setting on bare dry land, there isn&rsquo;t any water within at least 30 feet of the boat.&rdquo;</p><p>May retired to Portage Lake in the small Michigan town of Onekama. When the water dropped nearly a foot from the previous year&rsquo;s levels, May saw parts of the lake turn into mud flats. In Onekama, as in countless other harbors, the water is so low that wooden pilings are exposed and deteriorating and boats can no longer get in and out of the harbor.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6911_370-scr.JPG" style="height: 214px; width: 380px; float: left;" title="A wooden dock juts out of the water in Two Rivers, Wisconsin (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />But according to May, it doesn&rsquo;t have to be that way. The federal government taxes all the cargo that comes in and out of its harbors, purportedly in order to fund harbor maintenance and dredging, which is what keeps channels passable, particularly in low water years. Infrastructure repair is also essential during a time like this, when the wooden bases of 100-year-old seawalls are exposed and crumbling.</p><p>But for years now, the federal government has held back much of the money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which brings in about $1.5 billion a year. May accuses politicians of trying to make a dent in the deficit at the expense of smaller federal harbors like Portage Lake; a tiny fraction of the $750 million in unused funds could solve the city&rsquo;s problems.</p><p>In order to get around the funding dry-up, Great Lakes harbors have routinely sought out earmarks and special appropriations to stay operational. The frugal fiscal cliff environment in Washington is unfavorable to that approach these days. The Army Corps&rsquo;<a href="http://www.lre.usace.army.mil/ETSPubs/HFS/all%20fact%20sheets.pdf" target="_blank">&nbsp;detailed list of necessary repairs</a>&nbsp;seems to have an urgent project budgeted for nearly every single Great Lakes harbor, and the vast majority of the projects are unfunded for FY2013.&nbsp;This year only 15 out of 140 federal harbors in the Great Lakes will get dredged.</p><p>May founded the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition in 2007 to try to pass federal legislation that would require the government to spend all the money in the fund on its harbors.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr104" target="_blank">That legislation</a>, known as the RAMP Act,&nbsp;is creeping its way through congressional committees and could come to a vote this year.</p><p><strong>The heart of Two Rivers</strong></p><p>Back across the lake in Two Rivers, Wis., City Manager Greg Buckley agrees that the need for federal help in small harbors is dire. A wide federal channel is the center of Two Rivers, and it hasn&rsquo;t been dredged for decades.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Army%20corps%20map%20of%202%20rivers.jpg" style="height: 410px; width: 280px; float: right;" title="Army Corps map of Two Rivers" /></p><p>&ldquo;There are areas where there&rsquo;s only two feet of water,&rdquo; said Buckley, standing at the meeting point of the city&rsquo;s two rivers looking out onto the channel. Right now in a kind of DIY-dredging larger fishing boats use their propellers to pick up sand and silt as they go. If the water gets much lower, they could hit rock.</p><p>The town of Two Rivers needs its waterways. From the channel&rsquo;s meeting point with Lake Michigan, a massive brick factory stretches all the way back through town on the riverfront - and it&rsquo;s almost completely empty. The Hamilton factory opened in the 1800s to make wood type, and later made kitchen appliances and office furniture.</p><p>&ldquo;Our community band was the Hamilton band, our city hall is the reuse of the Hamilton community school,&rdquo; said Buckley. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s eerily quiet now.&rdquo; The operations of the former Hamilton company, which were bought and sold by various larger companies over the years, have been leaving incrementally for nearly two decades. The last manufacturing jobs associated with Hamilton moved to Mexico in 2011.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll pick ourselves up from that, something good will ultimately come from it,&rdquo; said Buckley &ldquo;and a lot of that relates to the water resources we sit right on top of, assuming we still have water in the lake and water in the rivers.&rdquo;</p><p>Buckley envisions Two Rivers as a tourist destination, with beautiful beaches and quaint harbors to complement the blue collar fishing town. He wants to redevelop the Hamilton building and turn Two Rivers&rsquo; beaches and boating opportunities into a draw for potential homeowners. He checks out Illinois license plates when they come through town, hopeful that wealthy Chicagoans will look to Two Rivers for summer homes.</p><p><strong>The trouble with dredging</strong></p><p>Dredging, or digging up sand and silt from the bottoms of rivers to keep them at set depths, is how the federal government has maintained its waterways since the 1800s. But it&rsquo;s also part of the reason why Lake Michigan is particularly low these days. Scientists agree that routine dredging of the St. Clair River, which connects Lake Huron to Lake Erie via Lake St. Clair, has permanently lowered average levels in Michigan-Huron by a full foot. Dredging solves immediate problems for shipping, but it does not return water to the lake.</p><p>And dredging can have immediate environmental consequences, too. In an industrial place like Indiana Harbor at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, the actual material dredged up is toxic and has to be carefully stored.</p><p><strong>Indiana&rsquo;s not immune</strong></p><p>Back down in Indiana Harbor, managers for huge shipping operations agree with the small harbor leaders that the federal government should release all the harbor maintenance funds to the Army Corps to fix up the harbors.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6914_543-scr.JPG" style="height: 169px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Dan Cornellie of ArcelorMittal points to the channel to be dredged in Indiana Harbor (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />Indiana Harbor will get dredged this year for the first time in 40 years. But freight operators who bring iron ore down from the Upper Peninsula to Indiana&rsquo;s steel plants say there are already other harbors where their ships are unable to navigate, redirecting freight which is then trucked to where it needs to go. That sort of inefficiency is bad for everyone in the industry.</p><p>&ldquo;If we had another summer like we had this summer, you know, lord help us,&rdquo; said Dan Cornellie of ArcelorMittal steel.</p><p>For every inch of water the lake loses, the ships supplying two large steel plants here have to lighten their loads by hundreds of tons. Right now freighters are coming into the harbor with two and a half feet less draft than just a few years ago, so for every six trips a ship makes, ArcelorMittal pays for a seventh to make up the difference. The result is a pricier bottom line for the thin, high-quality steel used to make everything from refrigerators to coffee machines.</p><p>Cornellie has been in the industry for a long time, and he remembers the low lake levels of 1964, but he said this time it doesn&rsquo;t feel the same.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, in &#39;64 nobody talked about climate change,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s no mystery what&rsquo;s going on. It&rsquo;s a question of whether any of those temperature or precipitation trends reverse.&rdquo;</p><p><b>A future in drought?</b></p><p>2012 was just tallied as the hottest year on record, and U.S. climatologists predict a continued rise in average temperatures in coming years. Precipitation in the Michigan-Huron basin in 2012 was at 87 percent of its long-term average. Although the drought is expected to let up near Lake Michigan, parts of the Midwest will likely stay in severe drought conditions into the coming summer. The Mississippi River is currently&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-shippers-breathe-sigh-relief-rock-removal-begins-mississippi-river-104488" target="_blank">barely holding off a shipping shut-down</a>&nbsp;as it nears its own record low south of St. Louis.</p><p>The water will likely go back up in spring and summer, as it does every year; late winter is generally the lowest time in the lakes&rsquo; yearly cycle. But another summer of extreme heat or drought, and this winter&rsquo;s woes will seem like kid stuff.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6910_366-scr.JPG" style="height: 450px; width: 800px; float: left;" title="The Hamilton factory dominates the waterfront in Two Rivers" /></p><p>&ldquo;Maybe we can&rsquo;t just glibly talk about hey the lakes go up and down and hey what are you gonna do, give it a few years it&rsquo;ll be back,&rdquo; said Buckley, back up in Two Rivers. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not keeping up with the infrastructure needs now, if you exacerbate that situation with dropping lake levels, the economic impact long term could be pretty profound. Now whether that&rsquo;s climate change, whether that&rsquo;s the fact that we humans have just sat here and observed these things for 150 years and think that&rsquo;s the norm when maybe it isn&rsquo;t, well, I don&rsquo;t know.&rdquo;</p></p> Mon, 07 Jan 2013 13:20:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748 Chicago shippers breathe a sigh of relief as rock removal begins in the Mississippi River http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-shippers-breathe-sigh-relief-rock-removal-begins-mississippi-river-104488 <p><p>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started breaking up plates of rock in the Mississippi River Wednesday, bringing relief to Chicago-area businesses concerned about a possible shipping shutdown this winter.</p><p>A rocky curve in the river near Thebes, Ill. became almost impassable in mid-December.</p><p>&ldquo;The barges can&rsquo;t get through there, they&rsquo;ll just tear their bottoms right out,&rdquo; said Chicago tugboat owner John Kindra. His boats tow barges carrying steel, petroleum and grains up and down the Calumet River, and many of those barges pass through the Mississippi.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F71889857&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>The water was already unusually low in November when a separate Army Corps district announced it would reduce the flow from a northern reservoir. The goal was to preserve that district&rsquo;s water despite the continued drought conditions.</p><p>With less water coming in from the Missouri River around St. Louis, it seemed possible that a 180-mile stretch of the Mississippi River just south of St. Louis would be impossible to navigate by mid-December.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6846_023-scr.JPG" style="height: 210px; width: 280px; float: right;" title="John Kindra of Kindra Lake Towing (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p>Kindra was among many who thought the situation was nearing an emergency. Barges have already reduced the weight they can carry due to the extremely low water levels south of St. Louis. If the &nbsp;Mississippi River had become impassable for shipping, that would have meant relying on trains and trucks to transport the same freight.</p><p>After a power struggle that drew in congressmen and governors from interested states, the Army Corps agreed to expedite a project excavating rock formations around Thebes.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;They did take some emergency steps and fast-track this, and this is a very good thing,&rdquo; said Kindra.</p><p>As of Wednesday the excavation involved breaking up the rock with a giant jackhammer and shifting it to deeper parts of the river. Later, it could involve drilling through the rock and blasting it out with explosives. Rock removal is expected to be completed by the end of January.</p></p> Thu, 20 Dec 2012 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-shippers-breathe-sigh-relief-rock-removal-begins-mississippi-river-104488 Drought could lead Chicago River to reverse course (again) http://www.wbez.org/news/drought-could-lead-chicago-river-reverse-course-again-104414 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/riverreverse.jpg" style="height: 169px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Lieutenant Colonel Jim Schreiner with Senator Dick Durbin and John St. Pierre, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></div>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in early December that without much rain or snow this winter, the Chicago River could reverse course &ndash; for the second time.</div><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Given the run-around</strong></p><p>In the year 1900, the city&#39;s civil engineers&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2012-01-02/january-2-1900-reversing-chicago-river-95172" target="_blank">reversed the flow of the Chicago River</a>, sending Lake Michigan water towards the Mississippi in a famously gutsy feat of engineering. As the city and its industries grew rapidly through the late 1800s, the amount of waste and contamination dumped into the river was threatening to make the lakefront unlivable and deprive Chicagoans of safe drinking water.</p><p>When the Chicago River flows in its natural direction, &quot;what you have is a great deal of, for lack of a better word, poo, going into the Great Lakes,&quot; said Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council.</p><p>That&rsquo;s how we got the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which served the dual purposes of diverting dirty river water away from the lake, and connecting Lake Michigan &ndash; and therefore the entire Great Lakes water basin &ndash; to the Mississippi River water system for the first time, opening up the possibility of commercial navigation between the two. Needless to say many to the south weren&#39;t happy with the new arrangement, which Henderson has described as turning Lake Michigan into <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/henry-henderson/world-toilet-day_b_2171952.html?" target="_blank">&quot;the tank that flushes our waste thousands of miles away into the Gulf of Mexico.&quot;</a></p><p>The new connection between the two water systems has also had unforeseen consequences in the form of invasive species, and lately environmentalists and fishing interests to the north have been <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-07-12/un-reversing-chicago-river-88976" target="_blank">calling on the Army Corps to permanently close off the link</a> through the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) in order to prevent a full-fledged Asian carp invasion. That would also restore the river to its natural flow, and force Chicago to think differently about its water infrastructure and waste treatment.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F71626162&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><strong>Gravity Rules</strong></p><p>Waste treatment or not, the river might re-reverse on its own. After a long drought and one of the hottest summers ever, the water in Lake Michigan only has to go down six inches to sit below the level of the Chicago River. At that point, gravity would send the river back to where it came from.</p><p>Flowing into Lake Michigan with it: sewage runoff and only partially-treated human waste (<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/question-answered-what%E2%80%99s-bottom-chicago-river-102651">among other things</a>). The <a href="http://[http://www.wbez.org/story/feds-okay-chicago-river-cleanup-93801" target="_blank">Chicago River has been somewhat cleaned up in recent years</a>, but not enough to allow an uninterrupted flow back into the city&rsquo;s main source of drinking water and recreational beaches.</p><p>And those suspicious swim advisories you hear about in the summer? The Chicago Park District has warned they will happen more often if the river reverses.</p><p>&ldquo;Anytime you reverse the flow of the Chicago River, you want to monitor and ensure that there&rsquo;s no major impacts on water quality,&rdquo; said Lieutenant Colonel Jim Schreiner, Deputy Commander for the Chicago District Corps of Engineers. He said there are occasions when the Army Corps intentionally (re)-reverses the river to control flooding. All of this is manipulated by the Corps&rsquo; control over the Chicago Harbor Lock. The Army Corps is tasked both with supporting the massive shipping industry through the waterways and with helping control contamination, in partnership with the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/reversing-course-water-agency-backs-chicago-river-cleanup-87524" target="_blank">Metropolitan Water Reclamation District</a>.</p><p>If water levels hit the lowest projections, the Army Corps will regulate lake contamination by closing the locks at Chicago for longer periods. That would limit how often boats and barges pass between the two waterways. According to Lt. Schreiner, over 40-thousand vessels pass through the locks every year in about 11,500 lockages.</p><p>This strange scenario will only come to pass if the Army Corps&rsquo; lowest possible lake level projections for the winter come true; lake levels are almost always at their yearly low in late winter. If significant rain or snow hits the Michigan-Huron region in January or February, the water will still be unusually low, but it is unlikely to lead to a major change of course.</p></p> Mon, 17 Dec 2012 12:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/drought-could-lead-chicago-river-reverse-course-again-104414