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Great Lakes Now Presents

Episode 1013: From Rust to Resilience

Rebuilding Chicago’s iconic lakefront, managing Buffalo’s rainwater and sewage, and tracking the annual algal blooms in Lake Erie are all part of the Great Lakes region’s effort to manage the impacts of climate change. This month, Great Lakes Now takes you to meet the citizens, city leaders and scientists who are working on these issues.

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From Rust to Resilience – Episode 1013

Rebuilding Chicago’s iconic lakefront, managing Buffalo’s rainwater and sewage, and tracking the annual algal blooms in Lake Erie are all part of the Great Lakes region’s effort to manage the impacts of climate change. This month, Great Lakes Now takes you to meet the citizens, city leaders and scientists who are working on these issues.

Our show is part of “From Rust to Resilience: What climate change means for Great Lakes cities,” a collaborative reporting project that includes six members of the Institute for Nonprofit News (Belt Magazine, The Conversation, Ensia, Great Lakes Now at Detroit Public Television, MinnPost and Side Effects Public Media) as well as WUWM-FM Milwaukee, Indiana Public Broadcasting and The Water Main from American Public Media

This project is part of the Pulitzer Center’s nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative. For more information, go to https://pulitzercenter.org/connected-coastlines-initiative.

As climate change makes other parts of the U.S. increasingly inhospitable, the Great Lakes region could become a “climate refuge” where temperatures are relatively moderate and the lakes themselves provide ample freshwater — an increasingly valuable commodity. At the same time, the region is highly vulnerable to the heat waves, flooding and severe storms expected to increase with climate change. Aging infrastructure and sewer systems that combine stormwater with wastewater along with shorelines vulnerable to water level changes, make Great Lakes municipalities especially susceptible to climate change impacts.

Here is all the partner work on the project:

WHERE WE TAKE YOU IN APRIL


Watch Live on DPTV

Tuesday, April 28 at 7:30 PM

STATIONS CARRYING THE SERIES


DPTV
Detroit, Michigan

WNEO-TV
Alliance, Ohio

WCML-TV
Alpena, Michigan

WDCP-TV
Bad Axe, Michigan

BCTV
Bay County, Michigan

WBGU-TV
Bowling Green, Ohio

WNED-TV
Buffalo, New York

WCMV-TV
Cadillac, Michigan

WTTW-TV
Chicago, Illinois

WVIZ-TV
Cleveland, Ohio

WKAR-TV
East Lansing, Michigan

WQLN-TV
Erie, Pennsylvania

WCMZ-TV
Flint, Michigan

WGVU-TV
Grand Rapids, Michigan

WGVK-TV
Kalamazoo, Michigan

WNMU-TV
Marquette, Michigan

WMVS-TV
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

WCMU-TV
Mount Pleasant Michigan

WNIT-TV
South Bend, Indiana

WCNY-TV
Syracuse, New York

WGTE-TV
Toledo, Ohio

WDCQ-TV
University Center, Michigan

WNPI-TV
Watertown, New York for Ontario signal

WPBS-TV
Watertown, New York for U.S. signal

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In the Month of April on Great Lakes Now

Click the tabs to read descriptions of each feature in Episode 1013.

Toxic Algae and the Climate Conundrum

SEGMENT 1 | Western Lake Erie

Every summer, western Lake Erie transforms into something resembling pea soup. 

The reason? Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. 

“These cyanobacteria are the organisms that originally invented oxygen-producing photosynthesis billions of years ago,” says Dr. Gregory Dick, a research scientist at the University of Michigan. “But for historical reasons, they’ve also been called blue-green algae. And that sort of informal name sticks with the cyanobacteria. The blooms that we’re seeing in Lake Erie represent an unnatural flux of nutrients.”

Also known by the acronym “HABS” — for harmful algal blooms — these growths contaminated Toledo’s drinking water in 2014. Since then, a web of monitoring sensors have been deployed as sentinels for water quality and public health. That safeguards Toledo’s drinking water.

But in the coming years, climate change looks likely to complicate the situation. 

Of the phosphorus entering the lake, roughly 70 to 90 percent does so during the 10 worst storm events each year — and climate change is poised to make those storms more frequent and severe. 

Watch the Great Lakes Now segment to learn more about this work. 

Here is other Great Lakes Now work about Lake Erie and the algal blooms:

Watch our segment about the Great Black Swamp.

Chicago’s Battered Beaches

SEGMENT 2 | Chicago, Illinois

A massive storm hit Chicago in early January, whipping up 23-foot waves on Lake Michigan and ravaging the city’s waterfront. It seriously eroded some of the city’s beaches, putting residents along the lakefront on edge.

Winter storms are nothing new, but scientists say climate change will make these storms more severe and more frequent. Combined with this year’s high lake levels — which have been at or near record levels for months—the January storm offered a sobering preview of what may become a more common occurrence.

After the storm, Chicago’s city council adopted a resolution. Citing catastrophic lakefront erosion, citywide flooding and severe unseasonal weather, it calls for a “climate mobilization” on a scale not seen since World War II. 

Alderman Matt Martin co-sponsored the resolution. 

“We’re living in a time of profound uncertainty and instability,” he says. “However Chicago goes, that’s how Illinois is going to go. And we can be in a position to help guide where the entire country is going to go from a policy standpoint.” 

From project partner Belt magazine:

From project partner The Conversation:

From project partner Indiana Public Broadcasting:

Watch the Great Lakes Now segment to learn more about the storm and Chicago’s response.

Check out Great Lakes Now’s coverage of Chicago HERE.

Here is other Great Lakes Now work about climate change and issues with storms and water levels around the region:

Watch our segments about Vanishing Shorelines and Lake Ontario Shoreline Flooding.

Buffalo Rain Check

SEGMENT 3 | Buffalo, New York

In his 2020 State of the City address, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced that the city would launch a $30 million environmental impact bond — the largest in the country’s history.

The bond will allow the city to incentivize private property owners to install and maintain green infrastructure, something the Buffalo Sewer Authority has already been doing as part of its Rain Check initiative. 

Using natural systems to manage stormwater runoff is one type of green infrastructure that’s part of the project, says Kevin Meindl, a landscape architect with the Buffalo Sewer Authority. 

“In the city of Buffalo, we have a lot of impervious areas. Almost 56 percent of our city is actually hard infrastructure. So that’s pavement, concrete, asphalt and it’s just really lacking in green space and tree canopy,” he says “So when it rains, that water is now able to enter into the ground into a planted area with soils and plants and trees and allow us to mimic the natural water cycle throughout our city.”

More rainwater sinking into the ground through these green infrastructure projects means less rainwater entering Buffalo’s combined sewer system. 

Too much stormwater can overwhelm the sewer system and lead to a combined sewer overflow, which results in rainwater and sewage being released untreated into streams and rivers that flow into Lake Erie.

Watch the Great Lakes Now segment to learn more about the Buffalo Rain Check project.

Check out Great Lakes Now’s coverage of Buffalo HERE.

Here is other Great Lakes Now work about climate change and stormwater management:

Videos from Episode 1013

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