Water reclamation district candidates weigh in on flooding
It was a summer of discontent in the suburbs as record rainfalls in July 2011 swamped backyards, basements and major intersections.
The cost and the personal toll it took on residents had many voters wondering why years of flood control construction and millions of dollars in water bills didn't provide greater protection.
The six Democrats running for three positions on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in the March 20 primary said there's a range of options to manage flooding.
The candidates are Evanston resident Debra Shore, 59; Patricia Young, 56, of LaGrange Park; and Chicagoans Stella Black, 70, Patricia Horton, 55, Kari Steele, 36, and Patrick Daley Thompson, 42.
The storms of 2011 were "a new kind of storm, more intense and more localized," said Shore, an incumbent commissioner. "They overwhelmed the capacity of any local sewer system."
The agency is working on plans to identify regional flooding and erosion problems, Shore said. Close to home, the district is funding renovations to Heritage Park in Wheeling so it will accommodate six stormwater storage facilities.
She advocates working with the Cook County Forest Preserve District to acquire more land upstream that could retain stormwater and be used for recreation.
Also, the agency is developing a comprehensive watershed management ordinance. It means "any new development or redevelopment will have to hold more water on site," which would slow the flow to sewers, Shore said. "My goal is to get that passed this year."
There's been some opposition to the watershed ordinance from Northwest suburban leaders because of fears it could hinder economic development.
Former commissioner and retired MWRD employee Young also supports the plan.
"Some of the municipalities are not thrilled because they think it may affect economic development but something needs to be done to protect people from flooding," Young said.
She thinks the district should consider building more tunnels to convey stormwater to the Majewski Reservoir, located near O'Hare International Airport.
Meanwhile, the Heritage Park project "will demonstrate what we can do as an agency," Young said.
Several candidates think green technology could provide a localized solution to flooding.
Rain gardens and wetlands should all be encouraged, said Thompson, an attorney.
"These are sponges that can absorb a lot of runoff," he said, adding that the district should consider offering incentives for flood-control technology such as porous pavers. Funding for these initiatives could come from excess tax increment financing district revenues Chicago reimbursed to the district, Thompson noted.
Steele says "we have to be more innovative as far as engineering projects, but we also do need to spread awareness of volume-control measures," such as rain barrels and rain gardens. "If everyone practices it, we can help alleviate the problem a little," said Steele, who is a chemist.
Solving flooding needs to be a collaborative effort, said Black, a property tax consultant. "Not one agency has the answer."
That means everything from people not running water constantly when brushing teeth to industry leaders installing wetlands or rooftop gardens at their offices to absorb runoff, Black said. "Small things like that can help eventually," she noted. "It can't fall on the MWRD to solve everyone's problems."
Horton, an incumbent commissioner, thinks measures such as rain barrels along with education are key to reducing flooding.
"We've been reaching out through the municipalities and educating them so they understand the issues and why there is flooding," she said.
But climate change is causing unpredictable weather and violent storms, Horton noted. "The type of rain we experienced (last year) has been unbelievable. Even my basement flooded," she said.
The winners of the primary will take on Republican and Green Party candidates in the November election.
For more information on the district's watershed plan, check out http://www.mwrd.org