Excess water: The drainage dilemma

Water is a friend that can very easily become a foe.

Homewood and Flossmoor have no large bodies of water to cause the kind of dramatic flooding that makes the evening news. Instead, the area has chronic problems with stormwater drainage that nevertheless are a serious matter for local property owners.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as little as an inch of water can cause property damage, and 20 to 25 percent of all flood claims are from property owners outside high-risk zones. Locally, public works officials say the majority of problems they deal with are not near streams but are in backyards, basements and streets that are not in flood zones.

Flooding in the H-F area is primarily a matter of drainage management.

Problem areas
Both villages have areas with drainage problems that have been difficult to solve. 

In recent years. Homewood officials have focused their attention on the 1500 block of Ridge Road and areas on Loomis Avenue north and south of Ridge.

These areas have been under consideration for storm sewer improvements for years. But because Ridge Road is a state route, any project requires approval and funding from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Homewood has proposed installing a larger capacity pipe that would carry water to a concrete box near Ridge and Loomis and would divert excess water to the Prairie Lakes detention ponds a few blocks north.

Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld has expressed frustration with IDOT over the lack of progress.

He cites a resident who came to see him a year or so ago and said she and her husband were planning to go on a trip, but the forecast called for rain and they were afraid to leave because of the likelihood of flooding.

“These poor folks. They shouldn’t have to live like that,” he said.

Village staff has sought help from state representatives and has met several times with IDOT officials in the past year-and-a-half.

Public Works Director John Schaefer said drainage and cost analysis studies have been done in recent years. He said what they often hear from IDOT is that more studies are needed. 

The village has offered to complete the project and get reimbursed when IDOT has funding available, but the state agency has not signed off on that proposal.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell told the Chronicle in an email earlier this year that the 1500 block of Ridge Road was not going forward in the near future.

“We will continue to work with the village to address their concerns, but we are not pursuing a project at this time,” he said. 

IDOT is in the process of adding a short section of storm sewer further east on Ridge Road near Lions Club pool. That project could be completed this fall, and Hofeld applauded that step.

In Flossmoor, one of the problem areas is along Hagen Lane on the east side of the village.

Public Works Director John Brunke said older sections of town tend to have the most drainage problems.

He said engineering standards were different in the early to mid-20th century, when Flossmoor was founded and developed.

“There wasn’t a focus back then on putting storm sewers in back yards and making things drain off well,” he said. “Newer sections of town don’t have these issues as much.”

Brunke said the village commissioned an engineering study of the area, and the solution was estimated to cost about $250,000. That’s more than the village can afford for one project, so Brunke plans to pursue grant funding to help cover the cost. 

The viaducts
Three viaducts in Homewood and Flossmoor have been the sites of flooding. The viaducts are the lowest points in the immediate area and it is inevitable that they collect water.

Of the three, the Dixie Highway viaduct in Homewood appears to be the most susceptable to flooding. A collapsed drain pipe north of the viaduct was identified more than 15 years ago as contributing to the drainage problem. 

Repairing the pipe is listed on IDOT’s multi-year plan, but no specific time frame has been established.

The Flossmoor viaduct drains faster than the Dixie Highway viaduct, but it still drains slow enough that public works officials have to close it to traffic from two to four times in a typical year because of standing water.

Brunke said the solution will cost several million dollars, and his staff regularly applies for grants and other government funding to help make it a reality.

Success stories
There may be no end in sight to flooding problems, but Homewood and Flossmoor each have success stories that show progress is possible.

In Flossmoor, the Cherry Creek flood control project, completed in October 2018 by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, has significantly reduced flooding, especially for homes just south of the Homewood-Flossmoor High School North Building on Governors Highway.

Those homes were vulnerable to flooding whenever the pond on the H-F campus was filled with storm water.

The project involved construction of several new culverts to carry water away more quickly. 

“The result was 16 homes being removed from the regulatory flood plain,” Brunke said. “That was huge, because not only are they getting the physical benefit of relief from flooding, in a lot of cases they won’t need flood insurance any more if they don’t want it.”

In Homewood, a number of big storm water relief projects have been done in recent decades. Hofled points to the Linden-Gladville project as an example of dramatic results.

The ambitious project nearly two decades ago installed a 60-inch line from near Ridge Road and Highland Avenue about 4,500 linear feet to the Pairie Lakes detention ponds.

The pipe had to be installed 30 feet under ground through residential areas. To avoid significantly disrupting residents’ lives, the contractor used tunneling technology.

The engineering firm for the project, Baxter and Woodman Inc., received the Engineering Excellence Award in 2000 for the project.

Homewood Assistant Public Works Director Patrick McAnaney said he remembers kids canoeing down the street during floods when he was a youngster.

A display in the Public Works Department office shows a photo taken in the neighborhood before the project was completed. A man wearing hip waders and holding a fishing pole is standing in the street. The water is up to his thighs, and he is standing next to a sign that reads, “Linden Lake,” a humorous reference to Linden Road.

Since the project was completed the neighborhood no longer experiences serious flooding, according to Schaefer.

Solutions for home owners
Homewood and Flossmoor public works departments offer help to residents who experience flooding problems.

Homewood residents can bring their problems to the Stormwater Resource Committee or directly to public works officials.

The committee includes members with engineering experience and residents who have experienced drainage problems and know the problem from a homeowner’s perspective, according to Schaefer.

The committee and public works staff help diagnose the cause of problems and suggest solutions.

Staff will draw up engineering plans for implementing solutions, and the village will provide materials. Homeowners have to take responsibility for labor, whether they install the solution themselves or hire a contractor, Schaefer said.

He said the number of requests for help varies. More homeowners typically come forward after heavy rains or during particularly wet seasons. 

The village currently has about 20 projects on the list.

Brunke said Flossmoor offers similar assistance. Residents are encouraged to contact public works to report problems.

“Call like you would for a downed tree or pothole complaint,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Dan Milovanovic, Flossmoor assistant public works director, estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the problems they hear about have simple solutions, and village staff can recommend steps residents can take themselves.

“People just need to be pointed in the right direction,” he said.

“What we see a lot is downspouts dumping on the ground right by the house,” Brunke said. “It’s going right down the side of your foundation into your sump pump. You’re getting a circle effect.”

Other problems are more difficult to diagnose. Schaefer said Homewood staff will do smoke tests when necessary to detect hidden problems. The test involves pumping colored smoke into sanitary sewers to see where it emerges. The smoke can indicate where sanitary and storm sewers are leaking into each other. 

He said staff is in the planning process to do a village-wide analysis, which could be a five-year project but would also help identify and address infiltration and inflow problems throughout town.

To contact Flossmoor Public Works Department, call 708-957-4100. 
To contact Homewood Public Works Department, call 708-206-3470.

Tips for dealing with drainage problems
  • Consider using green infrastructure such as rain barrels, cisterns, green roofs, rain gardens, permeable paving and natural landscaping to capture excess stormwater.
  • Disconnect downspouts from the public storm sewer system.
  • Clean debris from street and back yard storm grates.
  • Make sure grading slopes away from the house.
  • Make sure drainage takes water away from the house, but avoid conveying water to neighboring properties.
  • Seek advice from local public works officials on how best to address drainage problems.
  • Photograph or video water accumulation problems. Documentation helps public works officials advise how to address the problem.
Sources: Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Homewood Public Works Director John Schaefer and Flossmoor Public Works Director John Brunke.

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