Report warns of climate change-related impacts on Great Lakes


(Julia Esparza/Daily senior staffer)

Lake Michigan. Experts released a report on the effects of climate change on Lake Michigan.

Emma Edmund, Assistant City Editor

Experts warn that climate change poses a significant threat to the Great Lakes region, according to an Environmental Law and Policy Center report published last month.

The report, compiled by 18 scientists and experts, details the environmental and economic harm already associated with climate change, as well as projected future impacts in the area. Along with increased warming and other environmental issues, experts have tracked increased precipitation, the rise of extreme weather events, decreased wildlife diversity and more frequent beach closures.

While the Great Lakes region will be affected by these impacts as a whole, some areas will see more harm from certain climate change-related impacts than others.

Michael Tiboris, a global water fellow for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said Chicago will be more impacted by increasing precipitation during extreme weather events. The city’s combined sewer system drains both stormwater and sewage water into the same network, which can become overwhelmed during a major storm, he said.

“(The infrastructure) can handle a lot of water, but it’s not really designed to handle the high volume all at once,” Tiboris said. “The city has used a tremendous amount of resources in an attempt to mitigate it, but it’s pretty clear it’s not going to be enough. There’s just so much water falling from the sky.”

Chicago has already allocated resources toward alleviating this problem, including the development of a green infrastructure strategy that involves repairing 760 miles of sewer lines. While this may help Chicago, other areas around the Great Lakes will still have to develop solutions to the problems outlined in the report.

In December 2018, Evanston City Council approved the Climate Action and Resilience Plan which outlined “critical actions that need to be taken in order for Evanston to play its part in avoiding cataclysmic climate change,” according to the city website.

The first action listed calls for the prevention of combined sewer overflows that could prompt the opening of the Wilmette locks that releases untreated wastewater into Lake Michigan.

Ashish Sharma, a research assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame, said even though cities may face the same problems, they will have to develop unique solutions based on each city’s resources and budget. He emphasized using an interdisciplinary approach to create long-term solutions, regardless of how cities may choose to tackle these problems.

“We can include more interdisciplinary approaches on solving these kind of open problems, talking with climate scientists, ecological biologists, other designers and planners and stakeholders,” Sharma said. “And thinking about if the solution is a feasible solution, if it’s a long-term solution and if it’s economically viable.”

Though cities might have to develop different strategies to deal with the most relevant climate change-related issues, the experts still supported working regionally and nationally to develop overarching goals and initiatives.

Brent Sohngen, a professor of environmental and resource economics at The Ohio State University, said he wants to see Midwestern states do more coalition-building to develop strategies that promote cleaner energy across the region in areas like agriculture. While individual Midwestern residents could implement more sustainable practices at home, government policy is the only way to tackle the issue, he said.

“We have to have some sort of government solution if we’re going to tackle this problem,” Sohngen said. “There’s just no way around that. And unfortunately it’s not just the U.S. Obviously we’re a big chunk globally, even if the U.S. were to reduce its own emissions drastically, we’d still face a climate change problem if the rest of the world doesn’t come along.”

Along with the report, the Environmental Law and Policy Center released a list of possible policy solutions for legislators to consider.

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