Ald. Nugent, city officials discuss ’75 to 100 year’ storm that flooded parts of North and Northwest sides on Sept. 11
by BRIAN NADIG and CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
The Sept. 11 storm hit the North and Northwest sides with almost 6-inches of rain falling faster than the sewers could absorb, and the city logged 302 flooded basement complaints in the 39th Ward alone.
Alderman Samantha Nugent (39th) during a community Zoom meeting on Sept. 29 said that Mayfair, Sauganash Park and Forest Glen were among the most impacted that day.
“My heart goes out to those who lost a lot of family heirlooms” or suffered severe damage to their homes due to the flooding. “The 39th (ward) took a huge hit.”
Representatives from the city Department of Water Management, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the City Office of Emergency Management as well as several elected officials joined Nugent for the almost hour-long meeting.
In addition to the flooded basement complaints, the city said it received 23 complaints for water on the street, 21 sewer inspection requests, 10 sewer cave-in inspection requests, and several other repair sewer or catch basin calls in the 39th Ward, for a total of 382.
Other Northwest Side neighborhoods with a high number of flooded basement complaints included Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Dunham Park and Gladstone Park in the 38th and 45th wards, according to the water department.
Water department commissioner Andrea Cheng said that the rain fell at a rate of nearly 3 inches an hour in some areas, making it equivalent to a “75 to 100 year storm” and that it is not economically feasible to have a sewer and drainage system that can handle so much rain in so little time. “It quickly got up to six inches in some areas,” she said.
The city relies on rain restrictors that temporary hold water on the street during heavy rains and restricts the flow of storm water into the sewers when the system becomes overwhelmed. The storm water may temporarily flow over the curb, but the vortex restrictors, which are located in the catch basins, are designed to help reduce water from backing up into basement, officials said.
“The water almost has to wait in line before it can enter the sewer system,” said reclamation district civil engineer Kevin Fitzpatrick. The combined sewer system in Chicago is designed primarily for 5-year storms, he said. He said that most of the water goes to the McCook reservoir through a deep tunnel that stores 1.2 billion gallons of sewage before it is treated and hits the water way. He said that even the “deep tunnel” could not help to contain the Sept. 11 storm.
“These storms are occurring more frequently, and we recognize that,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that the district is working on projects that will increase the holding capacity of its tunnel and reservoir systems.
Officials at the meeting encouraged residents to have downspouts disconnected so water from roofs does not go directly into the sewers and to consider planting more trees and native plants to help with the absorption of rain. The city has a program in which it will inspect private drainage system and pay for repairs if the damage portion is on the public way.
Chicago Department of Transportation first deputy commissioner Tom Carney said that the Albany Park Storm water Diversion Tunnel did not play a factor in the Sept. 11 storm because the North Branch of the Chicago River did not overflow.
“The most important thing to note is that the Albany Park tunnel is a diversionary tunnel to address local flooding that was caused over the years when the North Branch of the Chicago River would overflow its banks and cause flooding on Eugene Field and the surrounding areas,” Carney said. “The tunnel does not open or close. It’s always open. It’s designed in a way that when water levels reach a certain point from the North Branch it goes into the tunnel and then into the North Channel… .The river never got to the point where the river was going into the tunnel”
Nugent also asked about the water geysers that were reported on social media that showed water shooting into the sky in several places.
City department of water management chief engineer of sewers Brendan Schreiber said that what created the geysers at Lawrence and Harding and Montrose and Harding avenues was that water was dropping rapidly into the deep tunnel under Lawrence with air and air was getting trapped in the tunnel, and that in some instances it hit another wall of water and had to get out “violently.”
The city also said that it does not close any restrictors to pool water on streets versus on other streets or shuts off valves in response to questions from residents concerned about the flooding.
“We do not have active (or remote) valve-control within our sewer system,” Schreiber said. “It is free of valves. Its gravity-fed sewer so the water in the sewers competes with itself and any other water that is trying to get into the system.”
Commissioner Cheng said that there was just too much water for the sewer to handle.
Nugent also asked if the area could be declared a disaster area.
“So does this mean that if we qualify we can get some help from the federal government?”
Khalil Muhammad of the Office of Emergency Management said that the office is in the process of working with other agencies on a disaster declaration in hopes to get some uninsured homeowners some relief.
“We’re not 100 percent sure yet,” he said.
“I wish that I could offer to fix your basement myself. What happens in a large disaster like this is there is a certain threshold that the county would have to hit in damages and when we hit that threshold the city can make a disaster declaration to the state, to IEMA, and that can go to the governor and perhaps to FEMA,” Nugent said. “I’m hearing from a lot of constituents that they are having trouble feeling whole again after a storm like this.”
“I’ll be honest. Illinois has a robust economy and has a lot of people, and those thresholds are harder to hit than if we were in Mississippi, Louisiana or something like that. But we are working trying to get some sort of assistance to the folks in your community,” Muhammad said.
Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) will hold a meeting to discuss recent flooding issues at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the Portage Park Senior Center, 5431 W. Berteau Ave.