Aurora examining how well anti-flood projects have worked
By Denise Crosby email@example.com April 22, 2013 6:24PM
The Fox river swells and overflows its banks at the South Broadway Park on Thursday, April 18, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun Times Media
Updated: April 22, 2013 8:01PM
Last week I wrote about neighborhoods of nervous homeowners watching rain fall from the sky and their homes continue to take on water.
City officials were equally as anxious. They knew this was going to be a big one. They knew it was going to test millions of dollars worth of improvements that had been put in place since the devastating Flood of ’96.
Yes, they knew there were going to be problems. After all, no city in the country, especially those located in the sandy, gravel-filled soil of the Midwest, can guarantee dry basements when Mother Nature decides to kick things into high gear. But just how much flooding was the question.
And what kind was an even bigger one.
As it turns out, there are three types of flooding, with two falling almost entirely on the shoulders of homeowners; and the city sweating out the third.
According to Aurora’s Chief Engineer Ken Schroth, the only way to battle the first kind — when ground water comes up so high there’s no place for it to go — is by investing in multiple well-functioning sump pumps and generators to keep it out of your basement. The second type has to do with sanitary services. When water is trying to find its way into the sewer, it doesn’t take much for it to get overwhelmed, said Schroth. And the only way to guard against such problems is to install a backflow prevention system. There are a couple of cheaper types, an automatic and a manual style, that will work if the stars are all aligned. There’s also a much more reliable protective backup device that converts homes to overhead plumbing. While it’s considerably more expensive, the city has a rebate program that reimburses residents for as much as $5,000 to encourage residents to install this more effective system.
Back in the ’90s, people were taking advantage of the program, noted Schroth, but few are doing so now, and he strongly encouraged residents to call (630-256-INFO) to find out more about this rebate opportunity.
Then there’s the third type — overland flooding — which had the city most worried last week because it’s the most devastating (think water pouring in through your window wells), but it’s also the type officials can most control.
Since the Flood of ’96, Aurora has spent millions of dollars buying up property and creating detention ponds that has taken vulnerable areas such as Cherry Hill on the far West Side mostly out of the floodplain. A culvert improvement grant along Illinois Avenue just upstream from Orchard Lake took another 50 homes in Greenfield Village subdivision out of the floodplain. And over the last couple of decades, the city has spent $100 million on a sewer separation project, with another $40 million still to go.
Still, officials readily admitted they were on pins and needles as the rain continued to fall. After all, even all these improvements “were designed to that 8-inch (rain) mark,” noted Schroth. When you start exceeding that number, no matter how much money was spent, things are going to start getting interesting.
City spokesman Dan Ferrelli said there were about 168 calls about flooding problems that came in from all over Aurora, with reasons as varied as sump pumps not working to power outages to sanitary issues.
While Aurora Chief of Staff Carie Anne Ergo said “we are pleased with the progress,” she also noted “there’s still improvements that can be made.”
Which is why, added Schroth, his department was out collecting data to help determine what is working and what needs to be done. That’s also why residents are asked to call City Hall (630-256-INFO) to report any and all flooding issues.
“We’re going to keep working at it,” Ergo said, adding that she understands the frustrations of residents. “If you let us know what happened, it can help the city plan better.”