Aerial image of flooding in Detroit.
Flooding in Michigan has reached an all-time high this season. Heavy rains have caused damage to homes and cars and affected electricity across the state. In southeast Michigan, rains have caused flooding in homes resulting in the loss of food and personal property. Climate change could be the reason as to why certain areas of the state are seeing unprecedented amounts of rain and flooding.
Climate change has been at the center of controversy in recent years, the basis of political campaigns and the fight of environmentalists. From oil prices and adverse weather conditions, like hurricanes and tornadoes, to rising costs of fresh produce and higher levels of rain water accumulation, climate change is projected to affect several areas of everyday life. The results of climate change are costing states billions in relief efforts and excessive flooding now threatens to add to the state’s growing disaster relief efforts.
This summer, Southeast Michigan saw flooding in unforeseen amounts and damaged many homes. As of July 2021, FEMA had approved 51,723 individual assistance applications caused by flooding totaling more than $151 million dollars in disaster assistance. Currently, residents living in Southeast Michigan can still receive disaster relief from FEMA for flooding and severe storms that occurred in late June.
“The first half of the equation is the change in weather patterns that we’ve been seeing. And I think the figure that sticks out to me the most is that, if you look at the top one percent of storms, the most intense one percent, the amount of rain that is falling during those storms have increased by over 40 percent from 1958 through 2016,” said James Clift, deputy director of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, known as EGLE. “That’s just the amount of water the system has to be designed to deal with. If you think about Southeast Michigan specifically, a lot of it was built in the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s. The storms we’re seeing today are almost twice as big in terms of the amount of rain falling.”
Climate change is not synonymous with a region’s weather but rather the expected conditions over a period of time. Changes in a region’s climate can cause shifts in weather such as precipitation and hotter weather. Michigan is a unique case as it is home to 21 percent of the world’s freshwater supply, thus surrounded by bodies of water for excessive rainwater to flow into. However, once full, water begins to back up and causes a nuisance with flooding roads and basements.
“Secondly, for a while there, this past year it had just been raining year after year [sic]. We saw the five rainiest years on record for the Great Lakes region. What happens then is the lakes are higher and higher and that pushes all of the lakes’ levels higher. When a storm happens, the ground gets saturated and the water has nowhere else to go so we start seeing flooding occurring,” said Clift.
In October 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a $500 million investment to rebuild Michigan’s water infrastructures. Updates to the water system cannot occur all at once, but rather needs a systematic approach.
“Our water infrastructure is in need of an upgrade and therefore we’re seeing system failures and all of a sudden, this pump isn’t working or this region of town is fine, but the region next to it is inundated. If we just had maybe some better pipes and pump stations to pump the water to a part of town that’s not getting as much rain, we could potentially be avoiding some of these flooding events,” said Clift. “I think a lot of effort going into right now is where are those corrections in the system that might take some pressure off the system overall or allow us to be a little bit more resilient and maybe we can move water from one part of town to another part of town in reference to southeast Michigan where we’ve seen a lot of flooding, but is clearly a problem we’ve been seeing throughout the state.”
Excessive flooding across the state is also affecting the cost of food. While southeast Michigan is not known for farming, there are locations in the state responsible for producing some of the region’s fresh produce including asparagus, cherries, black beans and grapes.
“In the spring is when the farmers are really impacted as they are trying to get out there and plant crops, but if their fields are saturated and muddy, they can’t get out there and do that work. That sometimes delays them getting crops in the ground. They tend to lose a lot of topsoil during those major main events so it’s degrading the quality of their farmland in general,” said Clift. “As all those nutrients run off the fields, we see it run into Lake Erie and Lake Huron and we see those algae events that come from excessive amounts of nutrient pollution.”
As winter approaches, concerns of snowfall are also beginning to accumulate. In preparation, Governor Gretchen Whitmer is championing for the state, particularly Ionia, Washtenaw and Wayne Counties. She is appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s denial to activate the Public Assistance Program in light of the summer’s downpour.
“I am going to fight for every available dollar to help communities across Michigan that were impacted by these historic storms,” Governor Whitmer is quoted as saying in a press release. “This federal assistance is still critically needed to support the recovery of public entities in Ionia, Wayne and Washtenaw counties. We will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure they get that much-needed assistance.”
FEMA is allowing residents who were affected by the June 25 and 26 severe storms and flooding to continue applying for individual disaster relief.