A Streets and Sanitation truck drives down a flooded South Shore Drive near 73rd Street in January 2020, after high winds pushed record-high Lake Michigan water levels into the neighborhood. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

SOUTH SHORE — Neighbors and experts concerned with flooding, erosion and other shoreline issues in South Shore kicked off an effort this week to strengthen the community against Lake Michigan and the impacts of climate change.

The first South Shore Coastal Resiliency Convening took place Tuesday night at Saint Luke Missionary Baptist Church, 7262 S. Coles Ave. The group was created to identify strategies and infrastructure that can reduce lakefront erosion and flooding in the neighborhood, officials said.

The study area stretches from 67th to 79th streets north to south, and from Oglesby and Exchange avenues east to the lake. The nonprofit Delta Institute was chosen by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to manage the project.

Though Lake Michigan water levels have fallen from a 2020 peak that caused major flooding in South Shore, preparations remain necessary as water levels are fluctuating more dramatically amid climate change, experts said.

Tuesday’s educational meeting featured research into shoreline issues and ideas that could be used to bolster South Shore’s coastline in the future, but it included no planning or final decisions. Several dozen neighbors attended this week’s session.

“Before you start talking about solutions to a problem, it’s really important to understand all the other elements of the problem,” said Malcolm Mossman, a program specialist at the Delta Institute.

Two more meetings are planned for December and February to define problem areas in the neighborhood and brainstorm solutions.

Neighbors interested in the resiliency project or joining its advisory council can email Mossman at mmossman@delta-institute.org or Lucas Chamberlain at lchamberlain@delta-institute.org.

The Delta Institute study will “include and dovetail with” the 2020 South Shore
Corridor Study
, the 2022 South Shore Quality of Life plan and other existing planning efforts, officials said.

Environmental Law and Policy Center data scientist Pouyan Hatami and special projects manager Jill Geiger present research on potential future flooding in South Shore during Tuesday’s launch of a neighborhood coastal resiliency plan. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials on Tuesday detailed three ongoing Great Lakes studies, which will estimate the range of future water levels amid climate change, study the impacts of high and low water levels on coastal communities and explore how to bolster Chicago’s shoreline.

The latter study, known as the Chicago Shoreline General Reevaluation Report, will review Chicago’s shoreline needs as part of a decades-old lakefront protection effort. More than 20 lakefront locations have been reinforced through the project since 1996.

The reevaluation report will focus on areas which either weren’t reinforced through the original project or which were rehabbed but still struggle to protect the shoreline. It’s expected to recommend reinforcements at Promontory Point in addition to South Shore and other locations.

“Right now, we’re still evaluating problem areas [and] bringing on a coastal engineering consultant to help with some of that process,” Dave Handwerk, planning section chief for the Army Corps’ Chicago district, said of the reevaluation report.

Experts with the Environmental Law and Policy Center shared their 2022 “Rising Waters” report, which included research into potential future flooding in South Shore, at Tuesday’s meeting.

Peak water levels in 2020 hovered around 582 feet, while center researchers modeled lake levels of 584-589 feet for the report.

Areas along the immediate coast — like Rainbow and South Shore beaches — are at risk of flooding if water levels hit 584 feet, according to the report. At 585.6 feet, a large portion of the community north of 75th Street could be submerged.

If Lake Michigan reaches 587.3 or 589 feet — the highest of which data scientist Pouyan Hatami repeatedly stressed was unlikely — “nearly the entire neighborhood” would be at risk of flooding, researchers found.

A flooded South Shore Golf Course, as seen in January 2020. Credit: Maxwell Evans/ Block Club Chicago

Officials with Illinois’ coastal management program shared an array of shoreline protections that have been used elsewhere along the state’s coast and could be implemented in South Shore.

These include more traditional methods like breakwaters and seawalls, and green infrastructure like living shorelines and artificial reefs.

South Shore could see a combination of these “old and new methods,” depending on the community’s needs, said Tara Jagadeesh, a coastal specialist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Organizers with environmental justice nonprofit Faith in Place shared information about urban flooding and ways to reduce it, like rain barrels, downspout disconnection and renovated playgrounds at Chicago Public Schools.

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