FAST FACTS ON CLIMATE-DRIVEN FLOODING IN MICHIGAN
Climate Change is already hurting Michigan, and it will get worse if we do nothing
- Last year flooding in the Midwest cost $10.8 billion in damage.
- Scientists said climate change played a major role
- Michigan was hit especially hard
- It’s happening again:
- The area around Midland receive 3-4 inches of rain since Sunday
- Floodwaters caused two dams to fail
- Residents in Midland County are being forced to evacuate
- A Dow Chemical superfund site is at risk of spilling toxic chemicals
- Climate change threatens additional problems for Michigan due to flooding
- Extreme rainfall caused the Great Lakes to swell in 2019, disrupting outdoor recreation and causing shoreline damage, and the Army Corps of Engineers expects it will be worse in 2020
- 20 toxic sites are at risk of spilling contaminants due to climate-induced flooding
- Trump tried to gut the EPA’s Superfund cleanup program and put it in the hands of the polluters.
- Trump hired a former Dow Chemical lawyer, Peter Wright, to run the EPA’s Superfund Program – the same person who led negotiations with the EPA to delay cleanup at the Midland, MI site now under threat from the flooding.
- Dow Chemical is responsible or partially responsible for contamination on more than 170 Superfund sites nationwide on the National Priority List.
- Trump has also tried to gut the EPA’s Superfund cleanup program, proposing to cut $113 million from funding to cleanup superfund sites
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING:
Despite all of the talk about sea level rise devastating communities on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Midwest is also already facing serious problems with flooding that is being accelerated by climate change. Warm humid air is bringing massive amounts of moisture to the Midwest and sometimes dumping it so quickly that it causes devastating flooding. Michigan was hard hit by the ongoing heavy rainfalls in 2019 that led to flooding that cost over $10.8 billion in damages across the Midwest. Scientists said that climate change played a role.
This year, it is happening all over again, with storms dumping 3-4 inches of rain in a short period of time over central Michigan, forcing evacuations as two dams failed in Midland County.
The outlook for climate-driven flooding in Michigan is not good. Last year, excess rainfall caused the Great Lakes to swell in water levels, damaging shorelines and turning tourists away and interfering with recreational activities such as boating and fishing. The Army Corps of Engineers expects that the Great Lakes will break 2019’s record level high water levels again in 2020.
There are 20 toxic sites around Michigan that are at risk of spilling dangerous contaminants in a flood. One of those toxic sites is operated by Dow Chemical along the Tittabawassee River in Midland.
As the Superfund sites in Michigan are at risk of flooding, Trump and his team have worked to gut EPA’s Superfund Program and put polluters in charge of national toxic cleanup. In 2018, Trump tapped Peter Wright, a former Dow Chemical industry lawyer to run EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) which oversees the cleanup of the nation’s superfund sites. Wright led the effort to delay cleanup of Dow’s Midland, Michigan site – the same one now at risk.
MAY 2020 FLOODING
5/19/2020 Freep Headline: “River Flooding Causes Evacuations In Michigan As Heavy Rain Sets Records.” On May 19, 2020, the Detroit Free Press reported: “Heavy rains over the last few days doused Michigan, prompting flood warnings along rivers across the state and forcing some residents to evacuate their homes and navigate water-logged roads. At least two rivers in mid-Michigan — the Tittabawassee River in Midland and the Rifle River near Sterling — had reached their major flood stage Tuesday afternoon. Moderate flooding has been observed at a handful of other rivers in mid-Michigan as well as the west and southwest portions of the state, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologists say areas around Midland logged 3 to 4 inches of rain since Sunday. This produced a ‘tremendous’ amount of runoff that the National Weather Service said is causing significant rises on the river system.” [Detroit Free Press, 5/19/2020]
5/19/2020: Floodwaters Caused A Dam To Fail, Forcing Evacuations In Midland County. On May 19, 2020, The Weather Channel reported: “Residents in two central Michigan towns were told to evacuate immediately Tuesday evening after floodwaters caused a dam to fail. Emergency officials in Midland County, about 150 miles north of Detroit, had earlier warned residents along Wixom and Sanford lakes that the Edenville Dam was in danger of failure. They told residents to leave immediately around 6:15 p.m. EST when the dam could no longer hold back the water flowing through its flood gates. [The Weather Channel, 5/19/2020]
CNN Headline: “Thousands In Michigan Evacuate After 2 Dams Are Breached, And The Governor Warns City Could Soon Be Under ‘9 Feet Of Water’” On May 20, 2020, CNN reported: “A rain-swollen river has breached two dams and flooded fields and streets in parts of mid-Michigan, forcing evacuation orders for thousands amid a coronavirus pandemic that’s posing safety challenges Wednesday for officials trying to provide shelter. Parts of the city of Midland and surrounding areas were virtual lakes Wednesday morning, and it could get worse. Downtown in Midland, a city of about 41,000 people downstream of the dams, could eventually be ‘under approximately 9 feet of water’ on Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the prior night.” [CNN, 5/20/2020]
New York Times Headline: “Dam Disaster Threatens Major Dow Chemical Complex and Superfund Project.” On May 20, 2020, the New York Times reported: “Floodwaters from two breached dams in Michigan on Wednesday surged toward a sprawling Dow chemical complex and a vast Superfund toxic-cleanup site downriver, raising concerns of wider environmental fallout from the dam disaster and historic flooding. The compound, which also houses the chemical giant’s world headquarters, lies on the banks of the Tittabawassee River in Midland, a city that emergency officials say could soon be under as much as nine feet of water. Kyle Bandlow, a Dow spokesman, confirmed that floodwaters had reached the site’s outer boundaries and were entering ponds designed to hold runoff of water used on the site.” [New York Times, 5/20/2020]
DEVASTATING 2019 FLOODING
Flooding On The Missouri River And Upper Midwest In March Of 2019 Cost $10.8 Billion And Caused 3 Deaths. According to data tracked by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, flooding on the Missouri River and North Central US in March of 2019 had an estimated cost of $10.8 billion in damages and 3 deaths. The NOAA’s summary of the disaster said: “Historic Midwest flooding inundated millions of acres of agriculture, numerous cities and towns, and caused widespread damage to roads, bridges, levees, and dams. The states most affected were Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan. This flood was triggered by a powerful storm with heavy precipitation that intensified snow melt and flooding. Of note, the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska was also severely flooded the third U.S. military base to be damaged by a billion-dollar disaster event over a 6-month period (Sept 2018-Feb 2019). This historic flooding was one of the costliest U.S. inland flooding events on record.” [NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information]
May 2019: State Of Emergency Declared After Flooding Affecting 3,000 Homes In Wayne County. In May of 2019, the Detroit News reported: “Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency for Wayne County following widespread flooding this week. The declaration Thursday night came just hours after Wayne County Executive Warren Evans declared a county state of emergency and called on Whitmer to do the same on the state level. Evans said about 3,000 homes in the county, including Detroit, have been damaged by flooding, and local resources were inadequate to deal with it.” [Detroit News, 5/2/2019]
June 2019: State Of Emergency Declared After Flooding Washed Away Roads In Tuscola County. In July of 2019, MLive reported: “Recent flooding that washed away some roads in Tuscola County has led to a state of emergency being declared by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The declaration came Monday, June 3 and took place less than one week after a local state of emergency was declared by the county on May 28 that activated a local emergency response and recovery plans. County officials requested the state assistance on May 29 that will open the door for state assistance “to protect the health, safety and property to less or avert the threat of a crisis,” according to the emergency declaration.” [MLive, 6/3/2019]
Flooding In Kalamazoo Completely Covered WMU’s Football Field At Waldo Stadium. In June of 2019, the Detroit Free Press reported: “The recent rains have caused flooding in the streets of Kalamazoo, and the backed up water has spilled into Western Michigan football’s Waldo Stadium. WOOD-TV (Grand Rapids) meteorologist Ellen Bacca shared a picture on social media of the Broncos’ home, which showed the field entirely covered with a muddy water. WOOD-TV reports that the rains that swept through Kalamazoo County have caused flooding and fallen trees on several major roads. The National Weather Service placed the county under a flood advisory until 11:15 p.m., according to the report.” [Detroit Free Press, 6/20/2019]
LINK TO CLIMATE CHANGE
Scientists Say Climate Change Played A Hand In Deadly 2019 Midwest Floods. In March of 2019, Reuters reported: “Climate change played a hand in the deadly floods in the U.S. upper Midwest that have damaged crops and drowned livestock, scientists said on Thursday, while a Trump administration official said more homework was needed before making that link. The “bomb cyclone” that dumped rain on Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri and killed at least four people now threatens a wider region downstream of swollen rivers and smashed levees. Manmade greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the oceans and making the air above them more humid, scientists said. When a storm picks up and eventually spits out that moisture, it can be devastating for people caught below. ‘The atmosphere is pretty close to fully saturated, it’s got all the water it can take,’ said Michael Wehner, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.” [Reuters, 3/21/2019
IMPACT ON GREAT LAKES
In 2019, High Water Levels Forced Closures Of Marinas, Boat Ramps, And Docks. In August of 2019, MLive reported: “Much of Veterans Memorial Park in Bay City was underwater earlier in the summer, prompting the closure of the boat launch ramp there. Launch ramps elsewhere have been closed, including in Muskegon where tow vehicles could have gone into the water with the boats, according to city officials.” The article went on to point out: “Marinas are turning off electric power to boat slips due to the possibility of electric currents leaking into the water and causing electric shock drownings. Docks throughout the state are submerged. In South Haven, access to a popular park, boat launch and marina has been partially blocked due to road flooding. That has led to a reduction in parking revenue the city uses to maintain its seven beaches, said Hunter, South Haven’s public works director.” [MLive, 8/13/2019]
In 2019, Lakeshore Communities Worried About Shrinking Beaches And Waterlogged Marinas Turning Tourists Away. In June of 2019, the Lansing State Journal reported: “The Upper Peninsula community can weather the record-high Lake Superior water level, but only if the lake holds fast. ‘It cannot go another inch higher,’ said Kilpela Jr., who operates The Isle Royale Queen IV ferry. ‘Then things get really compromised.’ Kilpela is among thousands of Michiganders who had a lakeside view as the Great Lakes rose above record heights in May, according to a report the Army Corps of Engineers issued Tuesday. The rising waters have washed out roads, inched over boat slips, covered beaches and flooded properties. Some residents of Michigan’s coastal communities worry their tourism-based economies will suffer if visitors turn away from their shrinking beaches and waterlogged marinas.” [Lansing State Journal, 6/6/2019]
U Mich Scientist Says Extreme Rains And Drought Driven By Climate Change Will Make The Great Lakes Water Levels “Very High” And “Very Low.” In August of 2008, MLive reported: “Michigan may not get a break anytime soon from high lake levels wreaking havoc across the state, but when it does, the pendulum likely will swing the other way. That’s according to researchers with the University of Michigan, who say climate change is behind heavy precipitation that has engorged the Great Lakes as well as water tables throughout the state. It also will be behind periods of dry weather in coming years that will result in low water levels, said Richard B. Rood, a professor in U-M’s Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering. He calls the change from high to low water periods of ‘variability.’ ‘We think you’re going to see it very high and there also will be times when you will see it very low,’ Rood said.” [MLive, 8/15/2019]
2019: “Climate Change Is Fueling Conditions That Have Turned The Great Lakes Into The Erratic High Seas Of The Midwest.” In August of 2019, E&E News reported from Grand Haven, Michigan: “Streets are flooded in ‘Coast Guard City, USA,’ and the maritime rescue force is responding to dangerous events not seen for decades on Lake Michigan. Boats ramming breakwalls and other objects hidden below the lake surface. People and pets nearly swept off piers by crashing waves. Swimmers fighting riptides that have drowned 30 people so far this year. Beach walkers becoming trapped between pounding surf and cliff-like dunes. Welcome to the nation’s ‘Third Coast,’ where climate change is fueling conditions that have turned the Great Lakes into the erratic high seas of the Midwest.” [E&E News, 8/22/2019]
Great Lakes Water Levels Expected To Top 2019 Records In 2020. In January of 2020, Fox 2 Detroit reported: “With water levels in the Great Lakes breaking records in 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is predicting levels to reach similar heights in 2020, with a chance of new records being set again. Projections that extend six months from the present-day estimate levels in every Great Lake, as well as Lake St. Clair will be well above the average levels, with Lakes Michigan and Huron appear the most likely to set record highs. Both came close to records in 2019.” [Fox 2 Detroit, 1/8/2020]
ADDITIONAL TOXIC SITES AT RISK
Twenty Toxic Sites In Michigan Are At Risk Of Flooding And Releasing Contaminants Due To Climate Change. In November of 2019, the Lansing State Journal reported: “Twenty toxic sites in Michigan are at high risk of releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment during floods, which are expected to become more intense and frequent as the climate changes, a federal report states. The Government Accountability Office’s October report to Congress identified over 1,500 toxic sites in the U.S. at risk of releasing contaminants during floods, wildfires, storm surges and sea level rise. That means 60% of toxic hot-spots in America are at risk, according to the Associated Press. The Michigan sites include Parsons Chemical Works in Grand Ledge, the Shiawassee River in Howell and the Verona Well Field in Battle Creek. All 20 are considered risky, as high flood hazards with a 1% chance of flooding every year.” [Lansing State Journal, 11/24/2019]
Trump Administration Completed Fewest Superfund Cleanups In 2019 Than Any Administration Since The 1980s. In February of 2020, Time Magazine reported: “The Trump administration completed the fewest cleanups of toxic Superfund sites last year than any administration since the program’s first years in the 1980s, figures released by the Environmental Protection Agency indicated Wednesday. The federal government wrapped up cleanups at six Superfund sites around the country in the 2019 budget year, the fewest since three in 1986, EPA online records showed.” [Time Magazine, 2/20/2020]
Backlog Of Unfunded Superfund Toxic Sites Grew Under Trump. In January of 2020, the Associated Press reported: “The Trump administration has built up the biggest backlog of unfunded toxic Superfund clean-up projects in at least 15 years, nearly triple the number that were stalled for lack of money in the Obama era, according to 2019 figures quietly released by the Environmental Protection Agency over the winter holidays. The accumulation of Superfund projects that are ready to go except for money comes as the Trump administration routinely proposes funding cuts for Superfund and for the EPA in general. The four-decade-old Superfund program is meant to tackle some of the most heavily contaminated sites in the U.S. and Trump has declared it a priority even while seeking to shrink its budget.” [Associated Press, 1/3/2020]
Trump’s FY 2021 Budget Proposal Called For Slashing Superfund Clean-Up By $113 Million. In February of 2020, the Associated Press reported: “President Donald Trump called Monday for slashing funding for the Superfund hazardous waste program, even as the backlog of clean-ups has grown around the country for lack of money. The $113 million in Superfund clean-up cuts are part of Trump’s proposal for a $2.4 billion, or 26%, cut in overall funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s in line with the president’s vow as a candidate to cut all but “little tidbits” of the environmental agency in a push to cut regulations he sees as unnecessarily burdensome to business.” [Associated Press, 2/10/2020]
Trump’s Superfund Chief Previously Led Dow’s Legal Strategy While Dow Delayed Cleanup At Midland, MI Site. “The lawyer nominated to run the Superfund toxic cleanup program is steeped in the complexities of restoring polluted rivers and chemical dumps. He spent more than a decade on one of the nation’s most extensive cleanups, one involving Dow Chemical’s sprawling headquarters in Midland, Mich. But while he led Dow’s legal strategy there, the chemical giant was accused by regulators, and in one case a Dow engineer, of submitting disputed data, misrepresenting scientific evidence and delaying cleanup, according to internal documents and court records as well as interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the project.” [New York Times, 7/28/2018]