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Flooding fixes planned because problems are ‘not going away’

Overnight storms leave several streets homes flooded 8600 block Natchez Burbank Friday August 22 2014. | Jim Boyce/For Sun-Times Media

Overnight storms leave several streets and homes flooded in the 8600 block of Natchez in Burbank Friday, August, 22, 2014. | Jim Boyce/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 26, 2014 1:13PM



There was just too much water coming down in too short a period of time.

The result was traffic nightmares, waterlogged basements and even a handful of school closures.

In many areas of the Southland, the flooding problems that struck once again Friday are the norm whenever a heavy storm rolls through.

After surveying the overflowed Melvina Ditch Reservoir that caused 87th Street between Oak Lawn and Burbank to be closed for several hours Friday, Kathleen Meany, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, issued a statement that sounded like part plea, part warning.

“Ultimately, we all need to work together to figure out how to solve these issues,” she said, “because they’re not going away.”

The reservoir functioned as it should, officials said, but with 4.5 inches of rain in three hours, the system was unable to keep up, allowing thousands of gallons of stormwater to spill into adjacent streets — and homes — in Oak Lawn and Burbank.

The reservoir, built in 1968, was designed to relieve a flood-prone area of four square miles by pumping water into the Melvina Ditch and then into the Calumet Sag Channel. But the area is more developed now than it was 40 years ago, said David St. Pierre, executive director of the MWRD, which owns and operates the reservoir.

Ironically, that area was not identified as problematic by these communities, St. Pierre said. In the past year, the MWRD has reached out to its 133 municipalities in Cook County to collect information on trouble spots so it can begin partnering with local towns to solve them.

“It’s not an easy issue. A 41/2-inch rain will always be a significant problem,” he said.

The district has always worked on regional projects, but a new law enacted in June gives the MWRD authority to partner with local towns on stormwater management projects, and to issue bonds to help finance them without raising taxes, St. Pierre said.

The MWRD itself is funded primarily through the property tax, with the exception of its capital improvements bond fund. For its 2014 budget, the owner of a $100,000 home is paying an estimated $120 to the district, according to the MWRD website.

The reason Cook County presents such a water management problem, St. Pierre said, is because it is so flat.

“There are problems all over the county — that’s what makes it so tough,” he said. “This type of event (Friday’s rain) will not go away. We have to protect our citizens.”

By partnering with local communities, the MWRD wants to create a stormwater management plan for the entire county in the next five years, he said. The recent legislation will allow the district to act as a catalyst to address the local issues on a regional basis.

“If a town is putting in a street or a park, or developing an area, how can it help stormwater management? They have to see the larger picture,” St. Pierre said, adding that they hope to incorporate more green technology, such as pervious pavement, to aid in drainage and removal of water.

Communities have been understanding and want to work together, he said, but they also must be willing to make a financial commitment.

While the MWRD plans to voluntarily buy out properties in flood plains, it already has begun to work with some towns to relieve flood-prone areas, with priority given to areas where homes and buildings have flooded.

Significant improvements will be realized when the Thornton quarry reservoir, part of the district’s Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, is completed next year, with a capacity of 7.9 billion gallons of water, officials have said.

The McCook Reservoir is under construction and, when completed, will have a total capacity of 10 billion gallons, providing more than $90 million per year in flood damage-reduction benefits to 3 million people in 37 communities, according to the MWRD website.

Plans call for Phase 1 — with a 3 billion-gallon capacity — to be completed by 2017.

Projects with local communities that now are in the design phase include a $1.4 million project in Blue Island to relieve flooding in sites throughout the town where there are depressed areas and overloaded sewers.

In Lemont, there’s a plan to replace undersized culverts in a flood-prone industrial area along the Illinois & Michigan Canal and the Cal Sag Channel.

On Creekside Drive in Orland Park, they want to replace undersized storm sewers where basements, yards and streets now flood.

At 143rd Street and Linder Avenue in Bremen Township, a creek now flows over a road, causing erosion.

Many other sites have been identified as problem areas, including Natalie Creek in Midlothian, 135th Street and Central Avenue in Crestwood, 131st Street and Cypress in Palos Heights, and 112th Place and Beloit in Worth.



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