Extreme shifts in Lake Michigan water levels due to climate change are putting Chicago at increased risk


The Great Lakes are often called the nation’s third coast, and the past five years in the region have been the wettest on record. While the lakes don’t exactly correlate to rising sea levels, Chicago now sits in just as precarious a position as oceanfront cities. Heavier rainfall and more frequent droughts are now causing extreme swings in the water levels of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, wreaking havoc on the city and prompting urgent action to find a fix.

Climate change is having an increasingly marked effect on Chicago, which sits right along Lake Michigan and is dissected by the Chicago River. CNBC highlights the growing risks the city faces as one that is so vulnerable to its surrounding water bodies. In the winter of 2020, Lake Michigan reached a record high in water level due to intense rains that caused the Chicago River to overflow into downtown. The rainfall was so severe that the city’s system for reversing flooding didn’t work because the water level of the lake was higher than that of the river. Experts say this wasn’t an isolated event.

On the other end of the spectrum, seven years before the storm, the water in Lake Michigan hit a record low due to a prolonged drought. This threatened Chicago’s water supply as well as shipping.

To mitigate the impacts of heightened water levels, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, following the 2020 flooding, installed concrete barriers along parts of Chicago’s shoreline. Additionally, a…

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