Flooding Information

As you probably know, flooding is a major problem in the 36th Ward. The good news is there are things that can be done to prevent flooding. Here is some information about what can be done, but never hesitate to reach out to our office, there may be additional information available.

Chicago has opened a Basement Flooding Partnership (BFP). This is a group that will help you understand why flooding has increased in recent years and what can be done to mitigate the problem. Its not hard or expensive, but you have to care. 

What Causes My Basement to Flood?

There is a new kind of storm hitting Chicago in recent years—heavy rains that can be very local, very intense and hard to predict. They dump 2 inches or more per hour on a given neighborhood. This volume quickly overwhelms local sewers, which were not designed for such intense rainfall. Sewer mains fill up, and additional water pushes into basements through our private drains.

There are two main sources for this additional rainfall. The first is catch basins (CB’s) in the street. These are the grated drains by the curbs that feed the main sewer through lateral pipes. 

The second is water from rooftops. As much as 500 gallons of water can fall on the average residential rooftop. In the old days, City code required that gutter downspouts be connected to private drains (PD’s) that carry domestic water to sewers. This was fine for normal, old fashioned rains. But, when sewers are full, the water has nowhere to go but your basement. In essence, we are flooding ourselves.

The City is working hard to improve our aging infrastructure, but there are 4,400 miles of sewer main in Chicago, and mere replacement is not the answer. The key is to keep as much water out of the sewer as possible during the heaviest rains. 

If we divert as much water as possible from our sewer system, we will spare ourselves some painful floods. Nobody can guarantee you will never flood. Last July 23rd, Chicago had a record rain of 8 inches. In cases like that, flooding is inevitable. But, we can take practical steps to protect ourselves. That is what the BFP is all about.

What is the City's Responsibility?

The City can do a few things, including:

  • Placing restrictors—known as “Rain Blockers”—in CB’s all over town.  These plastic devices slow down the flow of water from the street.  It  goes into the sewer only as the sewer is able to handle it.  The streets are turned into temporary reservoirs (for 3-4 hours), and it gradually drains.  IF STREETS ARE FLOODED FOR A FEW HOURS, THAT’S GOOD.  IT’S BETTER THAN HAVING IT IN YOUR BASEMENT.  If the restrictors are missing, your sewer will surcharge and push water into your basement. 

Why Do My Neighbors and I Have to Act?

All flooding is local.  We are connected to each other by an underground network of open pipes. If we do not act in concert, we are being unrealistic.

Much of the water flooding basements is traveling across private property. Whether it’s your roof gutters or your yard, the City is not allowed to perform work on private property. It is up to owners to make the appropriate changes to meet the challenges of new weather patterns. And neighbors must work together to achieve good results. If only a few homes on a block take steps to prevent flooding, results will be minimal. 

How Does This Work?

We will help you recruit your neighbors into the conversation, but everyone has to be unified and interested.  We are looking for 70% of people to agree they will pay attention and consider the options set forth.  Once we get 70% expressing interest, the following happens:

  • Inspection and special cleaning of local sewers.
  • Inspection and cleaning of all CB’s to ensure good operation and the presence of Rain Blockers.
  • 3-1-1 analysis
  • Paper survey to determine actual experience and presumed causes
  • Computer analysis of local sewers to determine “catchment”. We have computer models that can give an accurate picture of what is happening underground.  It can also reveal the sources of water threatening your home (if water is coming from side streets or upstream blocks on its way to treatment).
  • A walk-around by an engineer to talk with any homeowner interested in some expertise (we will NOT enter basements).
  • Analysis of streets and alleys where there are reports of ponds or grading issues.
  • Advice on specific strategies for individual home gutter modification.
  • Expert conversation on rain gardens (planted to intercept and absorb rain water before it gets to sewers).
  • General neighborhood meeting with everyone in the room to understand causes and strategies for basement flooding.
  • Follow-up to help neighbors take collective action, and to save money through discounts and private sector partnerships.

OK.  I’m All For It.  What Do I Do Next?

Get in touch.  At [email protected] We’ll figure out a time when we can meet with just a few of your neighbors and plan how we will reach out to the rest of the people on your block. We will be your partners in recruitment.

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