Global warming is not the reason why Chicago’s 1800s-era sewer system occasionally floods people’s basements, despite Washington Post propaganda to the contrary. Instead, the culprits are the age of Chicago’s sewer system and the city’s tremendous population growth since the 1800s.
Utilizing global warming alarmists’ same tired playbook of mischaracterized anecdotes, the Washington Post published an article this morning highlighting the story of a Chicago woman whose basement flooded when the city’s aging sewage system could not adequately discharge water during a strong rainstorm. According to the Post, because sewage overflow occurred and because global warming is also occurring, global warming must be to blame for such unwelcome sewage overflow.
The facts tell a completely different story. Chicago has the oldest sewage system among large American cities. As the Post acknowledged, Chicago’s sewage system is ancient and obsolete, “designed to absorb rain nearly 120 years ago.” Of course, 120 years ago, Chicago’s population barely topped 1 million people. Today, Chicago’s population is nearly 3 million people.
Chicago sits on a flat plain that makes effective water and sewage removal particularly problematic. The Chicago River used to be “little more than a creek” that swelled dramatically during rainfall or snowmelt events. Despite its small size, the river accomplished its natural purpose well, quickly discharging excess water into nearby Lake Michigan.
As the city grew, however, civil engineers in the 1800s devised a scheme that reversed the flow of the Chicago River and required the city’s sewage and water overflow to traverse a much longer route into the Mississippi River basin. Sewage overflows during rain events occurred almost from the start. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, “With Chicago’s continued growth, this system could not maintain the reversal under adverse weather conditions.” These sewage systems failures, of course, began long before humans drove SUVs and derived electricity from coal-fired power plants.
Objective data and peer-reviewed studies show no increase in high-flow (flooding) events for streams and rivers still in a predominantly natural state. The only increase in flooding occurs in rivers and streams altered by human population growth and civil engineering, as is the case with the Chicago River. Unless one chooses to argue that global warming causes human population growth, especially in urban areas, there is absolutely no link between increased global warming and flooding events like those that occur in Chicago.
Indeed, Chicago’s sewage failures stand in stark contrast to those of other cities that more effectively upgrade their sewage systems and sewage capacities to keep pace with urban water demands. Even woefully managed Detroit has reduced its sewage overflow events by 80 percent since 1995. One cannot claim global warming is to blame for Chicago sewage overflow events unless one similarly claims global warming deserves credit for the dramatic decline in Detroit sewage overflow events.
Even in Chicago, sewage overflow events are poised to largely become a thing of the past. As the Post acknowledged, the city is in the process of expanding its sewage capacity, which should triple by the end of next year. By 2029, the city’s sewage capacity will be more than 600% of current capacity.
When Chicago’s sewage overflow events soon become a thing of the past, will the Washington Post credit global warming? Don’t bet on it.
[Originally published at Forbes]