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Yes, flood-control can be improved

Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Daily Herald

If it is any consolation to frustrated municipal officials in Cook County, it can be done. Flood-control measures can be implemented that will make a difference.

During a flood-aftermath meeting Monday arranged by U.S. Rep. Phil Crane, Mount Prospect Mayor Gerald "Skip" Farley and Des Plaines Mayor Tony Arredia expressed exasperation at the slow pace of approval for flood-control measures and the difficulty of getting federal agencies to move ahead on projects.

And certainly, Cook County flood-control efforts seem to have fallen behind those in some of the collar counties. DuPage County, for one, has taken significant strides and stands as an example of what can be accomplished.

When the clouds over DuPage County opened up on Aug. 13, 1987, they didn't shut down until they had dumped as much as 13 inches of rain in just a few short hours. The flooding was devastating. In some communities, the water was deep enough to submerge cars and require rowboats for travel. In fact, then-Gov. James Thompson had to use a boat to survey the damage, which was estimated at $150 million. But there was no price to be put on countless keepsakes that could never be replaced. Residents demanded action.

And they got it.

DuPage County launched an aggressive - and impressive - flood-control program.

In 1987, the DuPage County Forest Preserve Commission borrowed $100 million to buy thousand of acres of open space to mitigate flooding.

A model storm-water management ordinance was enacted that instituted strict rules for floodplain management and wetland protection.

Flood prevention also took the form of digging more reservoirs to hold storm water. It also included the purchase, by the county, of the former Elmhurst-Chicago Stone Co. quarry in Elmhurst, a costly and controversial project at the time. But it has worked to ease flooding in eastern DuPage County.

Numerous buildings in flood-prone areas were purchased and razed, allowing nature to go back to doing its own flood-control work.

Since then many heavy rains have come -without causing extensive damage, at least in eastern DuPage County.

That DuPage made such good progress in relatively short order is encouraging. Again, it can be done. But mayors and other Cook County officials cannot do it alone. They need help - and a greater sense of urgency - from state and, particularly, federal officials.

State legislators recently approved a bill that would centralize flood-management responsibilities in Cook County in the hands of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. That's a good step; Gov. Rod Blagojevich should sign the bill.

Beyond that, mayors such as Farley and Arredia are doing what they can to lobby federal officials; Illinois' congressional delegation needs to continue to do the same to help bring about in Cook the same kind of flood-control successes being enjoyed by nearby counties.

Determined effort to keep things dry
When the clouds over DuPage County opened up on Aug. 13, 1987, they didn't shut down until they had dumped as much as 13 inches of rain in just a few short hours.

The flooding was devastating. In some communities, the water was deep enough to submerge cars and require rowboats for travel. In fact, then-Gov. James Thompson had to use a boat to survey the damage, which was estimated at $150 million. But there was no price to be put on countless keepsakes that could never be replaced. Residents demanded action.

And they got it.

DuPage County launched an aggressive - and impressive - flood-control program.

In 1987, the DuPage County Forest Preserve Commission borrowed $100 million to buy thousand of acres of open space to mitigate flooding.

A model storm-water management ordinance was enacted that instituted strict rules for flood-plain management and wetland protection.

Flood prevention also took the form of digging more reservoirs to hold storm water. It also included the purchase, by the county, of the former Elmhurst-Chicago Stone Co. quarry in Elmhurst, a costly and controversial project at the time. But it has worked to ease flooding in eastern DuPage County.

Numerous buildings in flood-prone areas were purchased and razed, allowing nature to go back to doing its own flood-control work.

There has been an ongoing, diligent effort to keep streams free of debris that causes water to go over banks.

Since then, many heavy rains have come -without causing extensive damage, at least in eastern DuPage County.

The exception came in 1996, when as much as 17 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, causing more than $33 million worth of damage in Naperville; $3 million in Lisle. It was generally agreed that damage could not be altogether avoided with such a historic deluge. Nonetheless, flood-control efforts were stepped up, including improving drainage in flooded subdivisions. That work continues.

County and municipal flood-control programs certainly have been put to the test in recent weeks, with the heavy downpours. And residents have to be pleased that very little damage - certainly none of the scope of 1987 and 1996 - has occurred.

Now, just maybe, nature is giving us a break. Perhaps the real test of efforts to prevent massive flooding will come when there is another steady, freakish rain.

But no doubt the lack of water rushing through homes and businesses so far in this sodden spring can be explained by the effectiveness of flood-control work by local government. Without more water storage areas, improved drainage, protection of wetlands and restoration of flood plains, what would have happened with the cloudbursts of the past few weeks? Perhaps exactly what has happened in some areas just outside of DuPage County - widespread flooding.

Let's hope it all holds together through the next round of storms and more work doesn't need to be done



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