Pilgrimage to Lake Michigan in Photographs: Day 29

Pilgrimage to Lake Michigan in Photographs: Day 29
February 19, 2014

Well, snow and ice are melting and it's all running into Lake Michigan. It's also going into the deep tunnel and sewers, and hopefully not into our homes! The Water Reclamation District published a warning today in advance of rain expected tomorrow - and making recommendations about how to prepare.

Rain is anticipated in the Chicago area on Thursday, and coupled with ice and snow melt, there is an immediate risk for flooding in the entire Chicagoland region. We are preparing to minimize flooding by lowering water levels in the Chicago Area Waterway System to make room for runoff, and our TARP tunnels are ready to hold over two billion gallons of water.

The public can help plan for and minimize flooding by reducing water use. Postponing high water consumption activities such as bathing or showering, running dishwashers or washing clothes will help provide maximum capacity in the local and intercepting sewer systems. Making sure storm drains are clear and not buried under snow drifts and keeping areas around streams free of floatable debris can also help reduce flooding.

As if the flooding isn't bad enough, there's the ice underfoot. It makes for treacherous walking.

With the dog this morning, the little guy didn't know where to put his feet. He gamely jumped up onto snowbanks that yesterday would've supported his weight but today collapsed around him. His startled expression made me laugh, but he shook it off and kept on going.

The puddles covered with thin ice puzzled him and he moved carefully, shaking off each wet paw. After awhile he would set out a paw ahead of himself, testing the ice before placing his weight on it. I was beautiful to observe a small creature go through the process of learning something new. And, while he's not exactly an old dog, it was great to see him learning new tricks.

Ah new tricks: this life, this age we live in, expects it of us. And doing it makes our lives much richer; if you can rise to it.

Today the Chicago Architecture Foundation had an interestingly timed lecture: "Celebrating Engineering: I Dig Deep Tunnel", about the City's tunnel and reservoir system. It was admittedly pretty cool to hear about the tons of earth moved, the gallons of water managed, the massive scale of this project. Truly a celebration and a feat of engineering.

At the end of his talk, Kevin M. Fitzpatrick mentioned the green infrastructure options the City is now exploring for flood abatement. Acknowledging that Chicago's combined sewer system isn't a perfect solution, he also acknowledged the problems of run-off. The city's snow runs into our waterways as it melts, he said. And while the snow starts out pretty and clean, after a few days it's dirty sludge. And that's all pollution running into our lakes and rivers.

Green infrastructure comes none too soon in my estimation. And it strikes me as a fundamentally new trick. It takes a completely different mind-set than the massive project scale of the Tunnel and Reservoir system. It's less macho, less power tools involved.

I do hope there is room for repaving our world with stones that allow the earth to absorb its moisture instead of running it off into our waterways and sewers. Rain barrels next to our houses, green gardens on our roofs and in our empty lots.

It will be beautiful.

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