After heavy rain prompted the collapse of Midland’s Edenville dam on Tuesday, which has since caused at least two more dams on the Tittabawassee River to overflow, environmental advocacy groups in Michigan are sounding the alarm that the state needs to prepare for more catastrophic weather events as climate change worsens.
Statements from the groups also pointed to underfunded state infrastructure and loosened environmental regulations under the President Donald Trump administration as some structural roots of the problem.
About 10,000 people from the areas around the Tittabawassee River have been evacuated so far. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a state of disaster for the area Tuesday evening.
“The catastrophic flooding we are seeing in Midland is a culmination of the impacts of the increased strange and severe weather events that are amplified by climate change, and this latest event highlights the importance of big thinking right now from leaders around how to plan properly with our changing climate to keep our families safe,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
Wozniak also warned that floodwaters breaching the sprawling Dow Chemical Co. facility in Midland could mean widespread contamination in the area. Dow reported Wednesday that flood water had begun to mix with its on-site containment ponds.
“High water levels also threaten the integrity of Dow’s facility, which we know houses dangerous chemicals. Michiganders deserve full transparency from Dow, state and local officials regarding any contamination that results from this catastrophic event — and the immediate cleanup of it,” Wozniak said.
Tom Zimnicki, program director of groundwater, surface water and agriculture at Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), said the disastrous flooding in Midland should prompt state leaders to strengthen infrastructure needs.
“Stress to critical infrastructure will only intensify as the effects of climate change are realized. Financing green and gray infrastructure projects that account for a changing climate not only make natural areas healthier, they keep communities across the state safer and Michigan’s workforce more robust,” Zimnicki said.
Other groups stressed the importance of climate change preparedness. Jennifer McKay, policy director for the Petoskey-based Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council and MEC board member, urged structural shifts like guiding development out of flood-prone areas and improving the resiliency of shorelines.
“Sadly, this is yet another example of the devastating consequences of climate change in Michigan that have profound effects on many of Michigan’s citizens and the environment,” McKay said. “Individuals, communities, organizations and institutions have opportunities now to take steps to help avoid or reduce climate change consequences and protect communities from similar likely disruption and damage.”