Canadian Consulting Engineer

U.S. lawyers argue cities must adapt to climate change

June 16, 2015

A class action lawsuit in the U.S. Midwest is being brought against municipalities and other public bodies for failing to upgrade their water infrastructure to account for climate change.

A June 8 article in Scientific American, “Can Local Officials Who Ignore Climate Change Be Sued,” says the case has gone virtually unnoticed until now, although it’s been in process for seven years.

The case hinges on a flood in the Chicago area on September 13, 2008. A storm dropped more than 6 inches of water and broke records dating back to the Civil War era. Three hundred homes were damaged, whose owners are now filing the lawsuit against the suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, the Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and two other suburban towns.

The suit alleges that the authorities were negligent in failing to draw down reservoirs, replace inadequate drainage pipes and deploy rain barriers before the storm. But it also blames them for not requiring property owners to reduce run-off, including a local hospital whose buildings and parking lots shed rainwater into the neighbourhood.


A lawyer called Phillip Bazzo is leading the case, basing it on the idea that authorities are not changing their infrastructure to keep up with the needs of severe weather due to climate change. Bazzo has made similar arguments in other flood cases.

The article quotes Bazzo saying: “We’re using outdated science to engineer our sewers in this nation. There definitely is a new calculus here.”

The case had a setback on April 3 when the towns were granted immunity.

To read the article in Scientific American by Evan Lehmann and ClimateWire, click here.



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