The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic effect on the lives of billions of people around the world. In Illinois alone, nearly 4,000 people have died and more than one million people have filed for unemployment. While the pandemic is unprecedented, public health experts have always known the threat of a global health crisis from a strain like COVID-19 was possible. One respected academic journal, Clinical Microbiology Reviews, even said in 2007 that the presence of viruses in horseshoe bats was a “time bomb” that “should not be ignored.”

The experience over the last several months should get us to rethink our preparedness to all threats that can dramatically affect wide swaths of the public, and that includes the growing threat of extreme weather and its devastating consequences.

As extreme weather has become more intense, more frequent, and more erratic, the economic, public health, and environmental costs have become much more profound.

Last spring, the worst flooding in more than 25 years created economic havoc for landowners and farmers, impacting more than 40 percent of Illinoisans. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, flooding in urban areas alone caused $2.3 billion worth of documented damages between 2007 and 2014, of which $1.24 billion were private claims.

Extreme weather also causes extraordinary environmental damage. Excessive flooding pushes runoff from city streets and waste water treatment plants into our streams and rivers. That runoff includes excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) that destroy aquatic habitats in our area and far beyond. Perhaps the worst example, the runoff from Illinois and the other twelve states in the Mississippi River Basin has created a dead zone where no fish live in a huge area covering thousands of square miles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Excessive runoff can also degrade our drinking water supply, lower property values, and threaten public health. As extreme flooding becomes more commonplace, dangerous levels of sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, debris, and oil can invade our water supply that we need to live healthy lives.

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