33,000,000,000. That’s the number of gallons of contaminated Chicago River water that have flowed into Lake Michigan—source of drinking water and quality of life for millions of Americans—in the last decade. The river normally flows away from the lake, so what gives?Blame climate change. And infrastructure not designed or built to deal with the changes brought the changing climate.
Violent storms dump an incredible volume of rain in very short periods of time. Even with massive additions to the region’s stormwater system, it cannot keep up. When that system cannot handle intense rainfall over the area, sewers fill and dump into the River. When the Chicago River fills with all that stormwater, which is now contaminated with all kinds of nasty stuff after comingling with whatever was in the sewer lines, it swells. And after a while, well, gravity takes over. The river level rises above the lake level and water heads downhill. The Chicago River literally changes direction and flows out into Lake Michigan.
We’ve only just begun to understand some of the impacts of abrupt climate change.