Contaminated Sites Face Flooding
A new report says that more than 200 shoreline communities around Lake Michigan are at risk from high lake levels and strong storms that could impact industrial facilities and contaminated sites.
The report says that climate change is fueling more extreme Lake Michigan Water levels, along with stronger winds and heavier storms. These conditions exacerbate erosion, beach loss, and damage along the shore. Shoreline communities around the lake have already spent $878 million in just the past two years repairing damages from extreme weather events. Expenses could exceed another $2 billion in the next five years.
Using elevation data prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, analysts identified twelve areas where high lake levels and strong storms could impact industrial facilities, contaminated sites, and communities along Lake Michigan. These maps visualize four flood levels from 584 to 589 feet above sea level. The maps provide a starting point for risk assessment, spreading awareness, and prioritizing cleanup.
Chicago’s shoreline communities and the built environment have taken a beating from high Lake Michigan water levels whipped up by high winds and waves.
Climate change is causing more extreme weather events and unprecedented swings in lake water levels. As Professor Drew Gronewold of the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability explained, Lake Michigan water levels shifted from a record low monthly average of 576 feet in 2013, to a record high of 582.2 feet in 2020.
While scientists expect global mean sea levels to rise somewhat consistently, the Great Lakes are expected to continue to both rise and fall, fueled by an accelerating “tug of war” between numerous factors. In some years, higher temperatures will increase evaporation resulting in lower lake levels. In many years, lower temperatures and broad ice cover, combined with high levels of precipitation, will cause much higher water levels on Lake Michigan.
Residential buildings in Chicago’s north-side Rogers Park and south-side South Shore neighborhoods have been battered by water, wind and waves. Houses on the Chicago suburban North Shore, the Northwest Indiana shoreline, and Western Michigan’s lakeshore have been battered. Beaches are being washed away and bluffs eroded. Unfortunately, wastewater treatment plants, toxic dredge dumps and other industrial facilities are vulnerable to damage, flooding and toxic release.
“Defending toxic sites should be one of the top priorities for all communities,” said gary Chandler, CEO of Crossbow Communication. “When these sites are breached by extreme weather, they can cause permanent contamination of drinking water supplies, property and waterways. Toxic releases threaten our food supplies. This is now an extremely important part of homeland defense and public health.”
Read the full story about climate change and its impact on the Great Lakes region