Skip to content

🤖 “Keeping the Raindrops Where They Fall”

Water Voice

Photo by Shane McKnight / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Hosts: Greg Johnson | Co-Founder & CEO | AquiPor Technologies &
Kevin Kunz | Co-Founder & Vice President | AquiPor Technologies
Category: 🤖 Technology

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:38] KK: “There's so many problems with water right now that it's hard to grab them all at once and understand it. So to give water a voice, I figured we could go in […] a storytelling mode. And I'd like to tell the story of water in the historic city of Chicago.

[2:02] KK: “In the mid 19th century […] Chicago was experiencing fast growth, as private business saw tremendous opportunity in what was becoming the inland transportation network, given its accessibility to the Great Lakes in the Mississippi River Basin. […] But as the city grew, so did one major problem and the city really had no way of managing its water, especially its stormwater and wastewater. Unlike most cities in the US, Chicago sat just a few feet above the water level of what is Lake Michigan. And after storms, the city streets would transform themselves into nauseating swamp lands, with no place for all this water to go. And it really made transportation almost impossible to navigate and get to and from. No drainage for the nation's transportation home is a major problem for the future of the city of Chicago.”

[3:13] KK: “So in 1855, […] the Chicago Board of Sewage Commissioners deemed that […] digging in the ground to put pipes was going to be too expensive. At the time to them the only logical solution was to build sewage and stormwater piping […] network above ground and let gravity carry it to the Chicago River. No treatment needed, just send our sewage straight to the fish. And that raised some issues, obviously, but the goal then was to raise that city's elevation above the new pipes. So the plan was to dredge the Chicago River and […] to raise the city an average of 10 feet.”

[4:55] KK: “Soon enough, the city was 10 feet higher. 12 feet above the waterline of Lake Michigan and the city was much drier. But the foreseeable environmental whoopsies are not difficult to spot in today's day and age. With the Chicago River, including all of the raw sewage and stormwater channeling into Lake Michigan, which was and still is the city's main source of drinking water, diseases, like cholera were found in the 19th century they were becoming more prominent. So [1854] 1,400 citizens of Chicago died of cholera alone, pretty violent death. […] So keep in mind that the population of the city was only 83,000 people. And water again, had become a major problem.”

[6:04] KK: “By the late 19th century, rain events were bringing more and more pollution to Lake Michigan and the Chicago River was […] a mess. So the Chicago Board of sewage commissioners, they got bold again, this time developing a plan to reverse the Chicago River and send the city's filth down south through the Mississippi River. […] Downstream folks weren't happy, understandably.”

[8:04] KK: “Fast forward […] to the Clean Water Act of 1972. […] Chicago was back in the mode of having to think big. They couldn't face these lawsuits of polluting downstream in the Mississippi. So these engineers got together again and ultimately, in 1972, with the city of 3.3 million people, making it the second largest city in the United States and 10th in the world, they had to think big. So Chicago […] embarked on one of the region's most ambitious and expensive infrastructure projects to date. The tunnel and reservoir project or deep tunnel, which is a massive storage system that will be able to hold 20 billion gallons of water once it's completed. The project was signed into action in 1972 and is set to be finished in 2029.”

[9:50] KK: “This solution made sense at the time because Chicago sewage and stormwater still functioned under that same combined sewer system developed by the Chicago Board of sewage missioners. Just one to two inches of rainfall can overwhelm this network forcing sewage back through pipes to where it came from. When this happens, sewage flows into city streets or residents’ basement in what is known as urban flooding. […] If there's too much strain on the system, the city has to open the floodgates back up, pouring a mix of sewage and street runoff into local sources like the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Nothing's changed here.”

[10:34] KK: “And it's still the city's main source of drinking water. So we have 48 years later, nine mayor's later, and more than $4 billion invested in this deep tunnel project. […] Urban flooding is still plaguing residents, particularly in Chicago's communities of color and low income communities. Experts there are now trying to find a fresh approach. So in 2021, the deep tunnel project is facing issues just like Chicago's big engineering ideas of the past. Climate change is impacting the engineer design of this deep tunnel project. […] As city leaders have acknowledged the deep tunnel is no silver bullet for localized flooding, there's a growing consensus that urban flooding in Chicago is largely not a capacity problem, […] which views the sheer volume of water as the cause of flooding. […] Instead, it's the inflow restriction problem. Meaning that water can't necessarily enter these channels that they're building quickly enough these 109 miles. […] So some engineering groups in Chicago in the region have long viewed the deep tunnel as a missed opportunity.”

[13:01] KK: “Chicago is only one example of cities across the nation who are experiencing this myriad of issues facing stormwater and overall water management. We destroyed our native land, we've manipulated the Earth's surface into our own doing, and we're now suffering the consequences of that. It's time to adopt innovation, […] take risks in trying new concepts, and build out our infrastructure with nature in mind. This is why we keep the raindrops where they fall.”

[14:27] GJ: “I think what it comes down to is, […] we have a ton of impervious surface area in our cities, we're dealing with more extreme rain events due to climate change and then existing infrastructure, wastewater and stormwater combined sewer networks are decrepit. […] And so how do we deal with these three situations with a new toolkit or technologies that can handle that. And I think there's not one solution by itself, but it's going to be a myriad of solutions that can help us get over that hump.”

[15:43] KK: “Identifying the cost of climate change is a tricky task. But scientists recently found that more than $60 billion in flood damage can be directly traced to climate change. And then furthermore, flood disasters are causing our country $9 billion annually.”

[17:26] GJ: “I think it all comes down to being able to get water back in the ground naturally. This conversation, that's what it's all about. And so obviously, aquifers are […], at least in our area, the main source of our drinking water. And we're getting to a point now where the more runoff that's created ends up being treated, but then going back out to the river, it's wasted water. And so we have to have […] a new approach to how we actually get rainfall back into the ground naturally. But it's easier said than done, because in some situations, cities have up to 40% of impervious surface area.”

[21:25] KK: “Ultimately, with major funding gaps, like for water alone, the annual funding gap is $8 billion, […] municipalities have their hands tied. […] When that changes […] and this infrastructure plan gets pushed out to our nation, I truly think it's a new opportunity for us to rebuild our infrastructure and our cities more efficiently, more effectively, greener, but build it for the people [and] for how they want their communities to function. And there needs to be a ton of thought put into how that happens.”

Rating: 💧💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 24 min | 🗓️ 07/07/2021
✅ Time saved: 21 min