A section of Bay City’s river walk no longer accessible to foot traffic due to high water levels (photo by Michael Percha)

Recent flooding in Bay City may be a result of climate change, according to a new report released by U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office.

On October 2, Bay City received more than 1.3 inches of rainfall, according to the National Weather Service. The storm flooded the banks of the Saginaw River, swamped Veterans Memorial Park and closed John F. Kennedy Drive.

Bay City Mayor Kathleen Newsham says infrastructure improvements need to be done on the city’s west side, but they’ll take some time.

“We’re going to have to make adjustments to the entryway, and you know, to be honest, we don’t even know what that’s going to look like right now because it’s still under water. And you know they made adjustments to the River Roar… I’m looking down the road for two or three years before we see anything happening over there.”

Flooding in recent years seems to have become just another aspect of life in mid-Michigan. In June 2017, the area saw massive flooding from weekend storms which dumped up to seven inches of rain in some areas. Bay, Gladwin, Isabella and Midland counties all declared states of emergency due to the flooding. Almost a year later, in June 2018, flash flooding created another state of emergency for two Upper Peninsula counties. This year in May, a state of emergency was declared in Wayne County. In June, it was Tuscola County and in July, Lake County.

Beyond the obvious property and infrastructure damage totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, the flooding is having an impact on the ecosystem and wildlife across the state. That was a topic of discussion Wednesday, October 9 at Bay City’s Wenonah Park. Sen. Stabenow visited the park for a news conference to talk about a report just released by her office on the impact of climate change in Michigan.

Sign at Bay City’s Wenonah Park (photo by Michael Percha)

The report details the science behind climate change, how it affects Michigan and what can be done about it. Stabenow calls it a climate “crisis” and says the time to act with solutions is now.

“It’s not going to go away, and so just ignoring it is going to cause our way of life to go away, which is not acceptable.”

Stabenow points to rising water levels in the Great Lakes and Rivers like the Saginaw River, in addition to warming temperatures, as evidence for a warming climate. The report attributes the warming trend on greenhouse gas emissions. It states that all 83 Michigan counties have higher average temperatures than 30 years ago, and that water temperatures in the Great Lakes have risen since 1995. Lake Superior is considered one of the fastest warming lakes in the world.

As mentioned, the effects are being felt among Michigan ecosystems. One worry is fish populations declining from rising water temperatures and fluctuating water levels, impacting Michigan’s $11.2 billion hunting and fishing industry, which employs around 171,000 people. A year long investigation by Reuters found warming ocean temperatures were impacting the fishing industry along the Atlantic shoreline of the U.S.

Rising and falling water levels also contribute to soil erosion and agricultural runoff. Toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie are currently half the size of Rhode Island and are becoming a growing problem in the Saginaw Bay.

This ties back into the rain we’ve experienced. According to Dr. Don Uzarski, Director of the Central Michigan University Institute for Great Lakes Research and of the CMU Biological Station, the warmer air holds more moisture, meaning more rainfall and pesticide runoff.

“The CO2 in the atmosphere traps infrared radiation and re-emits it. Infrared radiation is heat. Heat is energy and these storm events require energy to happen. So we get more severe storm events, and we’re seeing that constantly. The water is coming onto the landscape so fast that the landscape can’t absorb it and sink it back into the groundwater table. Instead it runs over the surface.”

This year, the flooding from these storm events delayed the planting of crops, not only in Michigan, but across the U. S. Michigan has the second most diverse crop production in the country, behind California. It isn’t known yet how the spring floods and delayed planting will impact the agricultural industry in the state.

However, despite the alarming tone of climate scientists and activists the world over, Stabenow says there is hope.

“Michigan is number one in the Midwest in creating clean energy jobs. We’re fifth in the country right now… We are in a spot both on new cleaner energy like electric (vehicles) but also in changes that have already happened with better fuel economy.”

Utility companies like DTE and Consumers Energy are also committed to reducing carbon emissions by eliminating coal-fired power plants and producing zero-net carbon emissions by 2050. Whether efforts along these lines become effective remain to be seen.