WBEZ | flooding http://www.wbez.org/tags/flooding Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Milwaukee finds a fix for stormwater overflows: Abandoned basements http://www.wbez.org/news/milwaukee-finds-fix-stormwater-overflows-abandoned-basements-110637 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/25164521_h11462610_wide-96a506c19aab1b1bce42266f9b315642cd20cf26-s40-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Some basement flooding could become happy occurrences, if more cities walk in the watery footsteps of Milwaukee.</p><p>As part of a new citywide sustainability plan and <a href="http://www.refreshmke.com/" target="_blank">an attempt to reinvent itself as a &quot;fresh coast&quot; capital</a>, Milwaukee is upgrading its water systems, and is researching options for tackling its chronic problems with stormwater management.</p><p>The city recently released a feasibility study <a href="http://city.milwaukee.gov/ImageLibrary/Groups/In-the-News/BaseTernFEASIBILITYSTUDY3.pdf" target="_blank">that examines turning vacant basements into cisterns</a>, preventing the untreated runoff from reaching the local rivers or Lake Michigan. The idea is the brainchild of Erick Shambarger, the deputy director of the city&#39;s Office of Environmental Sustainability.</p><p>After Milwaukee experienced major storms and subsequent flooding in 2008, 2009 and <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/99893489.html" target="_blank">2010</a>, the city put together a Flooding Study Task Force, which included Shambarger.</p><p>A frequent topic of discussion was how to keep water out of people&#39;s basements. Milwaukee has a combined sewer system that collects both domestic waste and rainwater runoff, so when street flooding would overwhelm the sewer system, water and sewage would back up through the floor drains in people&#39;s basements.</p><p>While looking at a map of where the basement flooding was worst, Shambarger noticed that the location overlaps with the center of the city&#39;s foreclosure crisis. Hundreds of these foreclosed houses cannot be economically salvaged and are being razed by the city. Cue Shambarger&#39;s light bulb.</p><p>&quot;If we are going to demolish the house anyway and there&#39;s going to be a vacant lot there, why not keep the basement portion of it?&quot; he says. &quot;Let&#39;s get water into those basements, and in the process keep other basements dry. We are making good use of a hole in the ground that somebody put there for us.&quot;</p><p>Shambarger and his team called the idea a &quot;BaseTern&quot; and trademarked the name on behalf of the city. Curtis Hulterstrum, the senior water resource engineer at HNTB Corp., examined multiple options for how the basements could be converted and the way BaseTerns would manage stormwater. Essentially, the basements will be used to immediately take the pressure off the sewage system by diverting and holding street and roof water &quot;runoff&quot; until the storm is over.</p><p>Water would flow into the structure, which would be covered with turf grass, via drains on top of the basement. It could flow out of the basement into the sewer system via the standard floor drain, or by adding multiple holes in the basement floor to allow some water to sink into the ground safely, or a combination of the two routes.</p><p>Kevin Patrick, a lawyer specializing in water issues, finds it &quot;highly doubtful&quot; that stormwater could be controlled in this manner, particularly in a way that is more economical than traditional stormwater solutions. But Hulterstrum says that it all depends on how you configure the outlet pipes, adding that costs will vary depending on the complexity of the BaseTern.</p><p>Shambarger says Milwaukee will begin measuring the idea&#39;s value by building a pilot BaseTern, hopefully by next summer, the city&#39;s rainy season. If Milwaukee finds success in the BaseTerns, it would be a big step up in <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/business/efforts-to-brand-milwaukee-as-water-technology-hub-reach-milestone-b9990504z1-222814861.html" target="_blank">the city&#39;s initiative to become a water technology hub</a>.</p><p>The Fund for Lake Michigan paid for the feasibility study, and executive director Vicki Elkin says she&#39;d be open to considering funding the pilot program as well. She says she hopes to learn not only how well the idea works, but whether it can be replicated in other areas of the city.</p><p>&quot;What I&#39;m hearing from engineers is that it&#39;s really place-dependent,&quot; she says.</p><p>David Waggonner, a water expert in New Orleans, says the idea sounds like a &quot;worthy experiment.&quot; He adds, &quot;I hope that it&#39;s a scale that will be replicable.&quot; Hulterstrum and Shambarger say the city has been getting a lot of interest surrounding the project, especially from other cities in the Great Lakes region.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/2014/08/12/339633247/milwaukee-finds-a-fix-for-stormwater-overflows-abandoned-basements" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/milwaukee-finds-fix-stormwater-overflows-abandoned-basements-110637 Morning Shift: Companies seek to enhance their 'Made in America' seal http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-02-20/morning-shift-companies-seek-enhance-their-made <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Cover Flickr Bob Jagendorf.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We talk to a local company that make &quot;Made in America&quot; an important part of their business strategy, and analyze what other companies are making this move and what it means for their business.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-companies-seek-to-enhance-their-made/embed?header=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-companies-seek-to-enhance-their-made.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-companies-seek-to-enhance-their-made" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Companies seek to enhance their 'Made in America' seal" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Thu, 20 Feb 2014 10:46:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-02-20/morning-shift-companies-seek-enhance-their-made In Cincinnati, unearthing an old river instead of digging Deep Tunnel http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/cincinnati-unearthing-old-river-instead-digging-deep-tunnel-107548 <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/lick%20run%20west.JPG" style="height: 457px; width: 610px;" title="The Lick Run project's Headwaters Gateway District, one of many proposed green infrastructure investments aimed at addressing both blight and combined sewer overflows. (Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati)" /></div><p>Rust, population loss and billions of gallons of sewage overflows &mdash; Cincinnati&rsquo;s South Fairmount neighborhood can now count at least one of these former challenges as an economic opportunity.</p><p>A plan to repurpose about 30 acres of brownfields and vacant lots into one of the nation&rsquo;s boldest experiments in green infrastructure <a href="http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/12e8a727953bad4f85257b7f00548201?OpenDocument" target="_blank">won the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency</a> Monday.</p><p>It is an innovative solution to a common problem throughout the Midwest, where many cities, including Chicago, have combined sewer systems that collect stormwater runoff and sewage in the same pipe. The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) of Greater Cincinnati will unearth a mile-long portion of a buried stream called Lick Run, which will absorb 1.5 billion gallons of stormwater each year.</p><p>When stormwater overburdens the traditional pipework of a combined sewer system, it forces <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/heavy-rain-overwhelms-combined-sewer-system-106731" target="_blank">a spillover of raw sewage and wastewater in what is known as a combined sewer overflow</a>. In a 2006 consent decree, the EPA ordered Cincinnati to reduce its combined sewer overflows, the nation&rsquo;s fifth worst, by 85 percent.</p><p>&ldquo;We have an opportunity. Instead of building a lot of larger pipes, or larger pump stations, or storage facilities,&rdquo; said Tony Parrott, MSD&rsquo;s executive director, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/embed/kEC4QGA1IVs">in a video about the project</a>, &ldquo;we can offload stormwater by creating some type of amenity that will address the consent decree goal but also bring some type of value to the communities. And it&rsquo;s less expensive.&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/lick%20run%20Queen%20City%20Ave.%20at%20Beekman%20looking%20SW.JPG" style="height: 457px; width: 610px;" title="(Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati)" /></div><p>Penned in by concrete, Mill Creek runs along the side of South Fairmount and into downtown Cincinnati. The lower Mill Creek phase of MSD&rsquo;s consent decree reductions calls for a 2 billion gallon reduction in combined sewer overflows by 2018. Instead of relying only on massive pipes, MSD will rehabilitate several watersheds to help control stormwater during wet weather. Along the Lick Run portion of Mill Creek, the resulting &quot;open space corridor&quot; could put to use vacant properties, which make up almost one third of all housing units in the neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;The Lick Run project is a valley conveyance system,&rdquo; said MaryLynn Lodor, MSD&rsquo;s environmental programs manager. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s an innovative way to convey stormwater through a system that is engineered, but it might look like or mimic a natural system.&rdquo;</p><p>The &ldquo;grey&rdquo; infrastructure alternative to exposing Lick Run and using it as a stormwater basin would necessitate new pipes 25 feet wide <a href="https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fprojectgroundwork.org%2Fdownloads%2Flowermillcreek%2FLMCPR_Report_Summary.pdf">at a total cost of about $312 million</a>, or about $117 million more than it will cost to create the Lick Run watershed.</p><p>That would put Cincinnati in the realm of Chicago&rsquo;s Tunnel and Reservoir Program, also known as Deep Tunnel. More than 35 years and $4 billion dollars into the project, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) has built hundreds of miles of tunnels, some 30 feet wide and 300 feet underground.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/34610267@N05/8960343931/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/calumet-tarp-room610px.jpg" title="A pump room deep underground at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley) " /></a></div><p>But the massive Thornton and McCook reservoirs won&rsquo;t be online until 2015 and 2017 respectively, and completion of the entire system isn&rsquo;t expected until 2029. In the meantime the partially complete system <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/heavy-rain-overwhelms-combined-sewer-system-106731">continues to overflow</a> and, as Michael Hawthorne reported for the <em>Chicago Tribune</em>, <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-04-21/news/ct-met-deep-tunnel-climate-change-20110420_1_climate-change-sewers-deep-tunnel-project">climate change could exacerbate flooding problems just as Deep Tunnel goes fully online</a>. In April flooding in Des Plaines was the worst seen there since the nearby USGS gauge in Riverside began collecting data 70 years ago.</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/thornton-res.jpg" title="Massive tunnels loom at the bottom of the Thornton Quarry, soon to be a TARP reservoir. Hundreds of trucks still haul stone from the quarry every day. They will finish mining this year. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div><p>Chicago has made headway with its sustainable streets program, building porous streets and alleyways, but <a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-06-21/heavy-rains-put-extra-pressure-deep-tunnel-88107">some have called for a more comprehensive investment in green infrastructure</a>. The city&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/green-belt-envisioned-south-side-103970">Green Healthy Neighborhoods initiative</a> aims for green infrastructure planning on the neighborhood scale, with vacant lots serving as bioswales or other elements of what the plan calls &ldquo;productive landscapes.&rdquo; Chicago&#39;s neighborhoods don&#39;t have the hills and valleys that help along Cincinnati&#39;s stormwater planning with projects like Lick Run, but the cities share similar challenges.</p><p>South Fairmount&rsquo;s brownfields, abandonment and historic disinvestment are not foreign problems to many Chicago neighborhoods, which could benefit from flood control both as a means to beautify blighted areas and as an economic investment.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="http://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p><p><a href="http://www.projectgroundwork.org/downloads/lickrun/lick_run_master_plan.pdf" target="_blank">Read the master plan here</a> [PDF], and watch a video about the project here:</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="343" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/kEC4QGA1IVs" width="610"></iframe></p></p> Wed, 05 Jun 2013 11:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/cincinnati-unearthing-old-river-instead-digging-deep-tunnel-107548 Botanic Garden gets over-watered by storms and is saved by plants, Army http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/botanic-garden-gets-over-watered-storms-and-saved-plants-army-106850 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/botanic-garden-before.jpg" title="The Chicago Botanic Garden's North Lake in September 2012. Scroll down to see the same shore during last week's flood. (Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden/Bob Kirschner)" /></p><p>Chicago&#39;s &quot;garden on the water&quot; got over-watered last week.</p><p>With more than six miles of shoreline, the Chicago Botanic Garden offers an idyllic green scenery along a waterfront. But when <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/rain-causes-flooding-delays-and-massive-pothole-106711">last week&#39;s inundation</a> sent the garden&rsquo;s lake levels soaring by more than five feet, the scene looked more like a swamp. And it was the actions of native plants &ndash; and the U.S. Army &ndash; that saved it.</p><p>The rising water swallowed stone lanterns on the shores of the Japanese Garden. In the past, such flooding would have sucked soil away from the garden&rsquo;s shorelines. Thanks to <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-13/news/ct-tl-glencoe-botanical-garden-20120913-8_1_native-plants-botanic-garden-bob-kirschner">an aggressive perennial plant initiative</a> that has <a href="http://www.chicagobotanic.org/research/shoreline/" target="_blank">tied up lakefront soil with native plant roots</a>, however, many areas of the garden weathered the storm with ease.</p><p>&ldquo;Within a few weeks you won&rsquo;t even know anything ever happened,&rdquo; said Bob Kirschner, director of restoration ecology at the Botanic Garden. Water levels should return to normal by Sunday night, he said, more than 10 days after the lakes began to rise.</p><p>In 2012 the Army Corps of Engineers helped the Garden flatten out its sloping shores, which had been made steeper by years of erosion. Like many landscaped lakefronts and urban waterways, the Garden once had turf grass right down to the water&rsquo;s edge. When turf grass goes underwater for days on end, it dies. Then the waves washing against that edge start to erode the soil. That process feeds upon itself, chipping away at the earth until you are left with vertical banks.</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/botanic-garden-flood.jpg" title="The North Pond, as seen at the top of the article, under five feet of water last week. The water has since subsided and the native plants there survived. (Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden/Bob Kirschner)" /></div><p>Over the past 13 years they have planted more than 450,000 native plants representing hundreds of species. Plants like riverbank sedge and blue flag iris were selected for their ability to survive extended flooding. While conventional flood control infrastructure like sheet piling and stone riprap can help forestall erosion, it can also create &ldquo;biological deserts,&rdquo; Kirschner said, by isolating what might otherwise be a thriving ecosystem where land slopes gently into shallow waters.</p><p>&ldquo;Native plants don&rsquo;t change the volume of the water we store here,&rdquo; Kirschner explained, &ldquo;but they change the resiliency of the ecosystem so it can recover.&rdquo;</p><p>Native plants aren&rsquo;t just for botanic gardens and ecologists. The Skokie River frequently spills over into the Garden, but not before running through 20 miles of north suburban development. If small landowners took an ecological approach to their backyard landscaping, they could have a significant impact on the river&rsquo;s flashiness.</p><p>&ldquo;Your friends and neighbors upriver largely control your destiny,&rdquo; Kirschner said, &ldquo;but you&rsquo;re controlling the destinies of people downriver from you.&rdquo;</p><p>Of course native plants have their limits, too. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174">Climate change will likely intensify precipitation extremes</a>, leading to more severe floods and droughts. But the Botanic Garden&rsquo;s native plants survived even worse floods in 2008, and didn&rsquo;t need any water during last summer&rsquo;s drought.</p><p><i>Chris Bentley writes about environmental issues. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a>.</i></p></p> Thu, 25 Apr 2013 23:34:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/botanic-garden-gets-over-watered-storms-and-saved-plants-army-106850 As Emanuel announces new flood control project, some say plans need to adapt for climate change http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-announces-new-flood-control-project-some-say-plans-need-adapt-climate-change-106791 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Flooding_130422_LW.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>As neighborhoods from Albany Park to South Shore work to wring out water-damaged possessions and clear up flood debris, Chicago area water managers say they&rsquo;re doing what they can to control flooding. But some also say climate change could make the task more difficult in the future.</p><p dir="ltr">Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans Sunday to construct a huge new tunnel at a cost of $45 to $55 million to help reduce flooding in the Albany Park area, which also experienced a serious flood in 2008. Speaking on the issue Monday, the mayor also noted that Albany Park has &ldquo;been affected by once-in-a-century flooding that happened twice in five years.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Donald Wuebbles, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois, has also noticed unusually frequent extremes in Chicago&rsquo;s weather.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The projections are that we will see even more precipitation coming as larger events in the future,&rdquo; Wuebbles said. He&rsquo;s been writing and speaking for years about the effects of climate change on weather, and<a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/local/chicago-tackles-climate-change"> for years has been warning Chicagoans about more frequent catastrophic storms</a> to come due to warming atmospheric temperatures.</p><p dir="ltr">David St. Pierre, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District says as far as he&rsquo;s concerned, that reality is already here.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;re seeing a lot more severe events than we saw ten years ago, five years ago,&rdquo; St. Pierre said.</p><p dir="ltr">He said tunnels like the one proposed by the city and the MWRD&rsquo;s Deep Tunnel project can address stormwater issues to a limited extent, but even the biggest tunnel will not be able to handle the new normal. St. Pierre thinks the region also needs to look at solutions that keep water completely out of an overwhelmed sewer system.</p><p dir="ltr">Take, for instance, <a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/green-solutions-to-overwhelmed">green infrastructure</a> proposals that have been around for a while. In 2003, then-Mayor Richard Daley&rsquo;s office released <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/dam/city/depts/doe/general/NaturalResourcesAndWaterConservation_PDFs/Water/guideToStormwaterBMP.pdf">a document on best stormwater management practices</a> including green roofs and permeable pavement. But the issue is a regional one, and ideas that would make green infrastructure a requirement have been slower to take shape.</p><p dir="ltr">The City of Chicago&rsquo;s stormwater ordinance passed in 2007 regulates runoff from new developments and redevelopment projects above a certain size, suggesting on-site retention systems and permeable pavement among the management options. But its scope has been limited so far. And the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District drafted a Watershed Management Ordinance in 2009 that includes requirements for wetland protection and maintenance of permeable surfaces in new developments; it could come up for a vote this year. Meantime, the Chicago Department of Transportation is working on a draft of its own &ldquo;Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Guidelines&rdquo; that would mandate careful control of runoff in all new city infrastructure. Eventually, these ideas would form a patchwork of regulations to prevent flooding.</p><p dir="ltr">But none of these options retroactively require homes or businesses to control runoff into the city&rsquo;s sewers, a limitation that could become increasingly significant with each new season of huge storms. In the meantime, city officials are asking residents who want to join neighborhood-wide mitigation programs to look into its <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/water/supp_info/basement_floodingpartnership.html">Basement Flooding Partnership</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Correction: The audio version of this story incorrectly referred to Donald Wuebbles as John Wuebbles.</em></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F88459714" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 23 Apr 2013 08:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-announces-new-flood-control-project-some-say-plans-need-adapt-climate-change-106791 Last week's storm still causing flooding problems http://www.wbez.org/news/last-weeks-storm-still-causing-flooding-problems-106771 <p><p>DES PLAINES, Ill. &mdash; The rain is gone for now but the trouble it caused last week is still here.</p><p>While many roads are reopening all over suburban Chicago, there are still plenty that remain closed. Flooding along the along the Fox River and the Des Plaines River has left many roads impassable in communities such as Lisle, Gurnee and Des Plaines. In many cases residents are getting around in canoes.</p><p>In Des Plaines, City Manager Mike Bartholomew tells The (Arlington Heights) <a href="http://bit.ly/13qi0UM" target="_blank">Daily Herald</a> that even when the water recedes enough to open the roads it will take at least a half a day to get them cleaned up enough to reopen.</p><p>It is expected to be sunny Monday but the area may get as much as an inch of rain Tuesday.</p></p> Mon, 22 Apr 2013 12:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/last-weeks-storm-still-causing-flooding-problems-106771 Heavy rain overwhelms combined sewer system http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/heavy-rain-overwhelms-combined-sewer-system-106731 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="https://www.mwrd.org/irj/portal/anonymous?NavigationTarget=navurl://eec9b2f677d42e0dea742ba5e2b45713" target="_blank"><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/cso%20april%2018.png" style="height: 700px; width: 610px;" title="The red shows unconfirmed combined sewer overflows on April 18. (Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District of Greater Chicago)" /></a></div><p>Inundated by nearly 5 inches of rain in less than 36 hours, Chicago water officials have <a href="../../news/rain-causes-flooding-delays-and-sinkhole-106711">had to &quot;re-reverse&quot; the flow of the Chicago River</a>, opening the large gates that separate Lake Michigan from the river to relieve pressure on a sewer system swollen with runoff and waste.</p><p>As <em>Chicago Magazine</em>&rsquo;s Whet Moser reported, <a href="http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/The-312/April-2013/Chicagos-Torrential-Rains-Fill-Deep-Tunnel-Burst-Water-Mains/">the deluge has easily outpaced recent upgrades to the city&#39;s water and sewage infrastructure</a>. Michael Hawthorne of the <em>Chicago Tribune </em><a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-12-15/news/ct-met-chicago-river-sewage-overflows-20111215_1_deep-tunnel-flood-and-pollution-control-project-green-infrastructure-projects">reported in 2011 that Lake Michigan had been hit with more sewage in recent years than the previous two decades combined</a>.</p><p>The Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District said Thursday that its 109-mile network of tunnels and reservoirs was 100 percent full. The Mainstream Tunnel was full by 12:31 a.m., while the Des Plaines Tunnel filled up at 3:30 a.m. Built to contain 2.3 billion gallons, the system hit capacity and poured enough stormwater and sewage into Chicago-area waterways to help raise their levels higher than Lake Michigan. Following protocol, MWRD tried to relieve some of that pressure by dumping the tainted water into the lake.</p><p>Contaminants can spread <a href="http://www.greatlakesmapping.org/great_lake_stressors/7/combined-sewer-overflows">kilometers away from shore</a>. MWRD has asked residents to minimize their water use to help ease the strain on the heavily burdened system. Not that it&#39;s a great day for a swim, anyway, but you might not want to hit the beach, either.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.greatlakesmapping.org/great_lake_stressors/7/combined-sewer-overflows" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CSOs%20great%20lakes%20map%20GLEAM.jpg" style="height: 471px; width: 610px;" title="Combined sewer overflows across the Great Lakes. (Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project)" /></a></div><p>Chicago&rsquo;s sewer problems may be stark, but they are not unique. <a href="http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/cso/cpolicy_report2004.cfm">A 2004 EPA report to Congress</a> found Chicago&rsquo;s overflows plagued mainly by bacteria, while the city of Toledo, Ohio suffered pollution from copper, lead, silver and zinc. Water samples taken near Toledo&#39;s sewer outfalls showed effects of chronic toxicity. A 2010 <a href="http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/Media-Center/Reports/Archive/2010/Turning-The-Tide-Great-Lakes-Sewage.aspx">study by the National Wildlife Federation</a> found cities around the Great Lakes discharged 41 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater into the lakes in 2009, with Chicago and Detroit leading the way.</p><p>There has been some progress. Detroit has decreased sewer overflows by 80 percent below 1995 levels by adding capacity, but had to back off its own deep tunnel project in 2009 <a href="http://www.tunneltalk.com/Detroit-outfall-Apr09-Detroit-outfall-contract-terminated.php">due to lack of funding</a>.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s waterways have cleared up, too, but face a murky future. The total number of fish species found in the Chicago and Calumet river system <a href="http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/csossoRTC2004_chapter05.pdf">increased six-fold between 1974, around the time that MWRD upgraded their facilities, and 2001</a>. But the Deep Tunnel project originally meant to help the system avoid overflows <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-04-21/news/ct-met-deep-tunnel-climate-change-20110420_1_climate-change-sewers-deep-tunnel-project">won&rsquo;t be complete until 2029, and may still be inadequate</a> in the face of <a href="www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174">floods pumped up by climate change</a>.</p></p> Thu, 18 Apr 2013 16:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/heavy-rain-overwhelms-combined-sewer-system-106731 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 Logan Square parklet would soak up rain along Milwaukee Avenue http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/logan-square-parklet-would-soak-rain-along-milwaukee-avenue-106373 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Woodard-Plaza-design.png" style="height: 325px; width: 610px;" title="Preliminary design for Woodard Plaza, at the intersection of Milwaukee, Kimball and Woodard avenues. (Courtesy Chicago Department of Transportation)" /></p><p>Torrential rain drenched the city in 2010. Lula Cafe in Logan Square, like many homes and businesses, was inundated and had to shut down for a few days due to flooding. Barely a year later <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/6663103-418/incredible-amount-of-rain-sets-area-record.html">the same thing happened</a>, and <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/6663103-418/incredible-amount-of-rain-sets-area-record.html">is expected to continue recurring</a> as climate change contributes to heavier storms in the Chicago area.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a very high concentration of 311 calls for flooding in this neighborhood,&rdquo; said Kara Riggio, a senior research associate with the <a href="http://www.metroplanning.org/index.html" target="_blank">Metropolitan Planning Council</a>.</p><p>MPC manages a $200,000 grant from the state Environmental Protection Agency to seed green infrastructure projects on 79 acres of North Milwaukee Avenue between Kimball and California avenues.</p><p>Right now about 95 percent of that area is made up of impervious surfaces that prevent rain from soaking into the ground, further aggravating <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/scouring-scarred-watershed-104916">an overburdened stormwater system</a>. Their goal is expand the pervious surface area, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/reuniting-nature-nations-backyards-105473">sprinkling natural filtration systems</a> throughout several urban neighborhoods.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea is making these small investments at the parcel level,&rdquo; Riggio said. &ldquo;Hopefully we&rsquo;ll be able to concentrate them and make an impact on how much water is entering the sewer system.&rdquo;</p><p>So far they have approved six projects in what they&rsquo;re calling <a href="http://logansquareh2o.org/">The Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor</a>. Recently they approved plans to turn a drab concrete island bounded by Milwaukee, Kimball and Woodard avenues into a parklet that will prevent 4,434 gallons of stormwater from entering the sewer system during each one-inch storm event. The design expands pervious surfaces by a factor of eight, from 185 square feet to 1,500.</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/Woodard-Plaza-current.png" style="height: 264px; width: 610px;" title="The current intersection of Milwaukee, Kimball and Woodard avenues, looking south on Kimball. (Courtesy Chicago Department of Transportation)" /></div><p>Dubbed Woodard Plaza, its features include a concrete runnel that directs water collected throughout the plaza toward five infiltration planters, which include native plants. The plaza will receive some additional runoff from adjacent streets by lowering the curb in some places.</p><p>It could be a boon for the pedestrian experience around that intersection, which is home to the <a href="http://www.placemakingchicago.com/places/logan-square-community-arts-center.asp" target="_blank">Logan Square Community Arts Center</a> and Hairpin artist lofts, but remains a spit of concrete amid busy streets.</p><p>The design team includes <a href="http://www.tgda.net/" target="_blank">Terry Guen Design Associates</a>, with civil engineering from McDonough Associates and soil testing from Wang Engineering. Grant funding only accounts for 8 percent of the total cost, but the rest has been secured through the Chicago Department of Transportation&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/make_way_for_people.html">Make Way for People initiative</a> and tax increment financing (TIF) funding.</p><p>On Saturday <a href="http://www.metroplanning.org/news-events/event/218" target="_blank">MPC will hold a workshop in Logan Square&rsquo;s Comfort Station</a> (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) with information about the grant program, which still has $80,000 to award.</p></p> Fri, 29 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/logan-square-parklet-would-soak-rain-along-milwaukee-avenue-106373 Climate change could worsen Chicago floods http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dc60618/2857566291/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bowmanville%20chicago%20river.jpg" style="height: 458px; width: 610px;" title="A swollen Chicago River runs through Albany Park in 2008. (Dominic Casey via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>Climatologists predict rainstorms will become heavier and more frequent in Northeastern Illinois, but many Chicagoans don&rsquo;t need mathematical models to know flooding is a problem.</p><p>Azarina Cerkic, 37, was living in the 5100 block of North Bernard Street in 2008, when a record-setting storm dropped more than 6.5 inches of rain in one day. (That record has <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-07-23/news/chi-chicago-weather-heat-rainstorm-20110723_1_storms-move-rainstorms-chicagoweathercenter-com">since been broken</a>.) The North Branch of the Chicago River rushed over its banks in Albany Park, dumping more than seven feet of water into Cerkic&rsquo;s basement.</p><p>&ldquo;There was so much water it flipped my washer and dryer right over, effortlessly,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And those are some seriously heavy things.&rdquo;</p><p>Cerkic and her husband had moved to the neighborhood from nearby Portage Park only three months earlier. Worried about the rising water, she said she called 311 on Friday and was told it would be fine. On Saturday the Red Cross evacuated her street.</p><p>Neighbors who had lived next to the river since the 1970s told her not to worry about flooding, Cerkic said. Like her, many of them did not have flood insurance. Cerkic, who now lives in El Paso, Texas, lost everything in her basement except for some childhood photographs that happened to tangle themselves up in plastic, surviving the water damage and mold.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve had a lot less attachment to physical things since the flood,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Even the most rigorous models cannot predict the future with certainty, but <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/climate-change-warnings-sharp-relief-104942">the third national climate assessment released in draft form in January</a> said the Midwest is likely to see a substantial increase in extreme rainfall events as a result of climate change.</p><p>The frequency of heavy rainfall in the region has doubled since the 1970s, according to the <a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/">Chicago Climate Action Plan</a>, and the 10 most extreme floods in northeast Illinois all occurred after 1950.</p><p>State Climatologist Jim Angel cautioned that climate models can be difficult to plan around. He and his colleagues reviewed several models available in 2007 and found widely varying predictions for future rainfall in Illinois.</p><p>&ldquo;Even if we had the perfect climate model,&rdquo; Angel said, &ldquo;we still don&rsquo;t know what society is going to do with greenhouse gas emissions.&rdquo;</p><p>Still, Angel said, the trend is toward wetter conditions. Not only are the annual precipitation totals greater, but heavier events have become more common. Last year&rsquo;s drought was severe, but 2012 was the exception in a decades-long trend. In terms of overall precipitation, it tied several other years for the 10<sup>th</sup> driest in Illinois history.</p><p>Apart from rising greenhouse gases, changes in land-use may also be accelerating the effects of climate change. As more natural landscapes are ceded to development and urban sprawl, hydrologists register an explosion in &ldquo;impervious surfaces&rdquo; such as concrete, brick and pavement. Water that once seeped slowly through the soil is instead shunted off into rivers and streams directly as stormwater.</p><p>Agricultural development also contributes to the rising frequency of extreme storm events.</p><p>&ldquo;You couldn&rsquo;t design a more efficient way of pulling moisture out of the soil and putting into the atmosphere in July than what we&rsquo;ve got with the corn and soybean crops,&rdquo; Angel said.&nbsp;</p><p>While the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District prepares to release a watershed management ordinance later this year &mdash; similar measures have been in place for more than a decade in the collar counties &mdash; it is not expected to factor in climate change.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 20 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174