CBA Record November-December 2021

water levels in the Great Lakes between precipitation and evaporation. Climate change gives ammo to both sides. Warmer air holds more moisture, and as the climate gets hotter, the last five years have been the wettest on record for the Great Lakes. This has increased water levels on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, leading to increased flooding, shoreline erosion, and corresponding property damage. At the same time, a warmer climate increases evaporation levels, creating the potential for rapid decreases in water levels. In a worst-case scenario, lower water levels in Lake Michigan risk undoing the MWRD’s work of reversing the Chicago River to protect Lake Michigan water, a nightmare scenario that threatens to contaminate the region’s drinking water source with sewage runoff. On the surface, it might sound like these extremes of precipitation and evaporation would cancel each other out and lead to stabilized water levels, but that’s not what’s happening now, and it hasn’t traditionally happened. The nearby figures illustrate these points.

Figure 2: National Climate Assessment

upwards of 42% (See Figure 3). Reduced ice cover coupled with intense and frequent precipitation intensifies flooding and increases shoreline erosion, thereby putting stressors on urban environments. Since 2013, Lake Michigan has whip- sawed between record lows and record highs. Changes in water levels that typically took decades now take place in a matter of years. And unlike coastal cities, which can plan on rising sea levels, the future of the Great Lakes’ water levels remains a mystery. Climate change and its impact is a public imperative, with long-term effects impacting social and environmental health factors such as water accessibility and water quality. Risk factors often depend on location, age, and social and economic characteristics. Too often, extreme weather events—increased precipitation and flood- ing, water-borne diseases from contami- nated water supplies, warmer temperatures, and decreased air quality—often dispro- portionately impact vulnerable communi- ties (Climate and Health (2021), https:// Midwest.htm (last visited Oct 18, 2021)). The list of risks is far from exhaustive. And it’s a mistake to think that inner- city minority communities are the only ones suffering from water inequity. For example, manure has contaminated shal- low drinking water wells in rural Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, hurting farmers who are already trying to make ends meet. It’s even possible for water distribution systems to be at risk from inflow and infiltration in affluent communities. Threats can also come from commodification, as has now begun by establishing a water futures market in California. It is clearer than ever that water equity is imperative for everyone. Water short- ages are not just something experienced

Figure 3. Climate Science Special Report: FourthNational Climate Assessment, Volume I

by nations on the other side of the globe. Ready access to clean water and sanitation is an increasing challenge right here at home in the Chicago metro region. Nor is water inequity a problem that targets only one demographic. It can affect any population. Federal action on climate change is accel- erating because it has to. In addition to wildfires in the West and sea rise along the seaboards, the federal government declared a water shortage this year for the very first time, which is already creating inequities. Instances like these mean that the federal government must act. While the past administration peeled away environmental protections and discredited climate change, the current administration has done just the oppo- site. Within the first 100 days, the federal government has advanced climate change policies that encompass environmental justice and set its sights on reclaiming the high ground of being a leader. The admin- istration has recommitted the U.S. to the Paris Agreement and has signed a suite of executive orders that prioritize and pro- mote clean water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote climate resilience. The orders also require federal agencies to review the previous administration’s policies that overturned proactive climate change actions and created a presidential advisory council to inform public policy on environmental and public health issues. Federal Action to Address Climate Change

Figure 1. Source: US Global Change Research Program (2014) Midwestern weather trends dem- onstrate that temperatures have gotten warmer, with increases of more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit between 1900 and 2010 (See Figure 1). Great Lakes ice coverage has steadily declined for decades (See Figure 2). This is despite the fact that precipitation has become more intense. Observed changes in Midwest precipitation showa steady increase in precipitation from 1958 to 2016 by

24 November/December 2021

Made with FlippingBook - Online Brochure Maker