January 10 News: Drought Could Cause The Chicago River To Reverse, Spilling Sewage Into Lake Michigan

Water levels on Lake Michigan are the lowest in recorded history. If the level continues to drop, the Chicago River could reverse itself and send untreated sewage into Lake Michigan. [ABC 7 News]

Federal officials declared a disaster area Wednesday for the entire state of Oklahoma, along with parts of 13 other drought-stricken states stretching almost coast to coast. [Tulsa World]

As she prepares to step down from her position as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson said she is proudest of presiding over the landmark finding that climate-changing greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. [USA Today]

The United States isn’t quite as reliant on foreign oil as it used to be. Imports of crude oil and other petroleum products are on pace to drop to 6 million barrels per day by 2014, according to new forecasts by the Energy Information Administration. [Wonk Blog]

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has finalized his committee staff, his office announced Wednesday. [The Hill]

On Wednesday, the chief executive of MiaSolé, one of the most promising Silicon Valley solar start-ups, appeared in Beijing for the announcement that Hanergy Holding Group of China had completed the purchase of his company and its technology for a fraction of what investors had put in. [New York Times]

The pillar of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s energy plan—a 730-mile line called the Northern Gateway that would carry crude from landlocked Alberta to the Pacific port of Kitimat—is mired in political and public opposition, focused in the province of British Columbia. [Wall Street Journal]

Lifeboats from an oil rig that was temporarily grounded on a small island in southern Alaska may have leaked as much as 272 gallons of diesel fuel into pristine waters along the shoreline, but that cannot be determined until a full inspection is completed, U.S. Coast Guard officials said. [Los Angeles Times]

Wind in the Americas has tremendous opportunity for growth, particularly in Latin America. By 2025, the region is expected to reach 46 GW of total installed wind capacity, according to a new IHS Emerging Energy Research study. [Renewable Energy World]

Google, which closed a $200 million investment in the 161-megawatt Spinning Spur Wind Project near Amarillo, Texas in late December, has now enabled more than two gigawatts of low-carbon energy to come online. [Atlantic]

7 Responses to January 10 News: Drought Could Cause The Chicago River To Reverse, Spilling Sewage Into Lake Michigan

  1. Ken Barrows says:

    So we’re only going to import 6 M barrels per day of oil and petroleum products by next year. It’s 8 M or so now. I call b.s. but perhaps I’ll have egg on my face.

  2. Joan Savage says:

    Does anyone else connect the orca whales stuck in the ice in Hudson Bay to climate change?

    The American Cetacean Society map for orcas’ range does not include Hudson Bay.
    Did they go out of range in a search for food, and was the low ice level in the summer Arctic part of this?

  3. Paul Magnus says:

    Great piece…

    Climate Portals shared a link.

    Climate ethics and the smoker’s excuse
    The new climate denier’s excuse for inaction is the smoker’s excuse: ‘you’ve got to die of something, right?’

    So when you deny the reality of the climate crisis and tell everyone to stop overreacting and just take another toke on that tasty oil pipe, you also need to start taking personal responsibility for the deaths and suffering of others.

  4. Mark E says:

    Erroneous headline in this post. Low lake levels threaten to RESTORE the NATURAL direction of the river, which was artificially reversed in the 19th century…. yet another example of people foolishly working against nature instead of with it.

  5. Joan Savage says:

    A new UN (UNEP) report, The Global Mercury Assessment 2013, includes:

    “About half of the global anthropogenic mercury emissions come from the burning of coal, metals production and the production of cement.”

  6. Allison Fore says:

    It is not possible for the Chicago River to reverse course on its own due to low lake levels!

    There have been some inaccurate media reports pertaining to the impact of low
    Lake Michigan levels on the Chicago River, and the Metropolitan Water
    Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) would like to explain how it is
    not possible for the Chicago River to reverse course on its own.

    The MWRD controls the level of the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) through
    four control structures – three of which are connected to Lake Michigan and the
    fourth is the powerhouse in Lockport. The MWRD has an allowance of 305 cubic
    feet per second (cfs) to draw water from the lake; 270 cfs is for discretionary
    diversion to maintain water quality in the channels and 35 cfs is for navigation

    CAWS levels are regulated under the Code of Federal Regulation and overseen by
    the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). These levels are set according to the
    Chicago City Datum (CCD) point that is a gauge at the downtown or mainstream
    lock. The MWRD’s normal operating levels are between -0.5 feet to -2.0 feet
    CCD. This allows vessels to pass freely under bridges and yet stay afloat – not
    too high, not too low. Before a storm event, the MWRD generally lowers the CAWS
    to -3.0 feet. This still allows for navigation traffic in the CAWS.

    The lake typically is several feet above the CAWS level. This allows for
    discretionary diversion to flow into the main channel and the Calumet system.

    The MWRD pumps diversion flow from the lake into the North Shore Channel at
    Wilmette. The current lake level is -2.55 feet, and we are operating the CAWS
    at -2.91 feet. We strive to maintain a minimum of 6 inches differential between
    the lake and the CAWS.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Will the low lake level cause a reversal of the Chicago River? No, the MWRD
    gate structures will not allow a reversal of the river under any circumstance
    with the exception of major storm events when the CAWS is full to capacity and
    needs relief. This has happened an average of once a year over the past ten

    Are we in a crisis? No, we are not in a crisis at this time nor do we anticipate
    being in a crisis this year even if the drought should continue. However, a
    prolonged drought could eventually result in significant water management
    developments within the region. It certainly highlights the value of water and
    the need to respect our use. Every citizen should certainly do their best to
    conserve water and use it wisely not wastefully.

    Will the low lake level cause water quality problems in Lake Michigan? No,
    there is no reason to expect water quality problems in Lake Michigan due to
    lower lake levels.

    There have been media reports declaring the CAWS will reverse during the low
    lake level. Again, this is not the case. It is also important to note that historically
    lake levels seem to swing in a sinusoidal curve over a twenty year period. In
    1964, lake levels were at the current level and peaked in 1984 and have now
    returned to 1964 levels. This has been the trend over the past 100 years.

    For an accurate news report, please visit the Fox 32 News website at