Village Should Ditch Flood Survey

Heavy rains over the last few weeks have brought soggy, familiar issues to Wilmette

 over the last few weeks have brought familiar issues to Wilmette homeowners, businesses and public buildings. Flooded basements, soaked carpets, sewage backups, insurance claims and the usual dumping of raw sewage into Lake Michigan come along with the thunderstorms, prompting the Village of Wilmette to issue yet another survey of residents concerning experiences with the flooding.

All good and well, but it is striking that storms once described as 50 year (2 percent) floods (the July 22 storm was a "100-year" flood, or a flood with a 1 percent chance of occurring) have been occuring with some regularity over the last 5 years, making them more like a flood with a 100 percent chance of occuring (at least each year since I have lived in Wilmette).

I am not convinced that another survey is going to do much of anything to prevent flooding. I have given some thought to the following broad view of storm management, and welcome any suggestions from Patch Readers:

  1. Ask the MWRD to declare the capacity of the holding and sewage processing facilities in Wilmette Harbor. That is, can we process 1 inch of rain in one hour? 7 inches in one hour etc.
  2. Ask the Village to make a standard goal of street drainage on an hourly basis, at similar rates.
  3. (and most importantly) Hold the Village and MWRD accountable for maintaining an effective drainage system based on some measurable goals.

#3 above might be pretty tough.There would need to be regular maintenance, systematic reporting and (occasional) round the clock operations at the MWRD and Wilmette Public Works. But it seems irresponsible to leave the Wilmette Locks operations unstaffed during major thunderstorms, waiting for a panic to trigger sewage dumping into Lake Michigan....or to have completely plugged combined sewers not being cleaned out until AFTER they back up into Wilmette basements.

There is every reason in the modern era that we live in, to demand a basic level of clean drinking water, dry basements and flood-free streets. There is a significant downward grade from at least Ridge Avenue to Lake Michigan, making Wilmette at least capable of being dried out using drainage tile, holding facilities and the existing North Shore Canal.     

Rather than another survey, I think it is time to hold officials at our (really expensive) drainage districts responsible for keeping sewage out of our houses, out of Lake Michigan, and providing a sensible and safe response to the thunderstorms which occur in our Village.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Max August 11, 2011 at 03:28 PM
My basic question remains unanswered. I agree that additional surveys are a waste of time and money. Sewer backups are not new and as I ahve said elsewhere, the problem is atleast 25 years old. If the Village needs to do anothere survey, it hasn't adequately looked at the history adequately. As to my basic question : If the Sanitary sewer system is independent of the Storm Sewer system, WHY DO WE HAVE RAW SEWAGE BACKING UP INTO HOMES DURING SEVERE STORMS ? This is not an individual home owner problem, it is at the very least a Village problem if not a MWRD/County problem.
John Powers August 12, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Hi Max, My understanding is that in much of Wilmette we have combined waste and sanitary sewer lines, especially East of Ridge. We have raw sewage backing up because there is more water pressure pushing in from the village sewer lines to your drains than pushing out from your house....which gets to the point....why do we have such high pressure coming in from the VIllage Sewer lines when we have a significant slope to the North Shore Channel? JBP
Max August 12, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Thank you, John, for responding. By combined sewer, I presume you mean combined storm and sanitary sewers. In that case the problem is somewhat understandable, but.... 1. My house, among others, are located West of Ridge. 2. Didn't Wilmette make everyone disconnect the downspouts and storm water discharges from going into the sanitary sewers unless the homeowner could prove otherwise? I understand the Village was "lining" the sewers to prevent infiltration of ground water into the sewers, but doesn't lining in effect reduce the capacity of the sewers ? Also, the sanitary sewer backup (from my experience) happens only during severe storms only. This is the only time in the past 25 years or so, the sanitary sewer backed up with raw sewage and didn't drain out by itself (clogging the basement floor drain), causing the furnace, electronic air cleaner, condensate pump, water heater and dryer to fail.
Max August 12, 2011 at 03:07 PM
In my mind there are various solutions, not necessarily in order of importance : 1. Check and Disconnect ANY storm water discharge from entering the Sanitary sewers (in effect convert the combined sewer into a dedicated Sanitary Sewer). 2. Increase the size of sanitary sewer. 3. Install "backwater valves" or "flapper valves" on branches to homes affected. 4. Offer financial and other guidance and help to have affected home owners install sewage ejectors (essentially sump pumps) for basement plumbing fixtures. These “solutions” come immediately to mind but I am sure others may come up with more efficient and perhaps less expensive methods to address the sewer backup problems. Things can not be allowed to continue the way they have. Not for this long and definitely not in this day and age.
John Powers August 12, 2011 at 03:15 PM
Good points all Max, on the backup valves, capacity increase etc...But I think the downspout disconnect, rain-barrels, rain-gardens etc are just a pantomime of actual engineering. We need the capacity to drain the village during and after the rains we receive every year, and we are not at a point where our drainage districts will even indicate that capacity. We have to start somewhere. JBP
Max August 16, 2011 at 05:42 AM
Patch, Can we get Patch to ask Village of Wilmette officials / elected leaders to respond to the questions raised above ? It seems the Wilmette was very eager for it's residents to respond to their recent flood surveys but doesn't seem all that eager to respond to some the questions and concerns raised here. Is the Village aware of http://wilmette.patch.com ?
Andrea Hart August 16, 2011 at 12:44 PM
Max, Thanks for the great discussion. Village officials have worked with wilmette.patch.com on previous stories. I will definitely pose these questions to them to see what responses we can get and keep you posted. Thanks again for the great questions. Andrea
Andrea Hart August 17, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Stay tuned for a Q&A with Wilmette's Director of Engineering Services!
Max September 01, 2011 at 03:17 PM
"According to the newspaper, IEMA ruled 43 homes in Cook County took on more than one foot of water, including six in Niles, 10 in Des Plaines, eight in Park Ridge and two in Northfield." Who, in their right mind, would believe this ? Northfield had TWO....notice the conspicuous absence of Wilmette ! Full article here : http://wilmette.patch.com/articles/no-disaster-ruling-for-july-23-flooding-homeowners-wont-get-aid So much for surveys !
John Powers September 01, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Good point Max. Talking with an insurance underwriter, I was informed that people typically do not fill these things out accurately, as they must note flood claims when they sell their house. A noted wet basement can hinder the sale of a house.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »