Suburban waterfront residents love their homes despite flood risk
Louis Igyarto has spent 25 years watching water levels rise and fall with every big storm from his home on the shores of Fox Lake.
Sometimes floodwaters have done minimal damage, leaving his lawn waterlogged or trapping a vehicle or two in his driveway. Other times, water has worked its way into his home's crawl space, causing significant damage.
But even after seeing many floods come and go, the 65-year-old says he would never leave the lakefront property he has come to adore.
"I love pushing my canoe in the water, paddling around the lake and going somewhere," Igyarto said. "Anytime I want, I can just push the boat in and go. It's freedom. I'm a water dog."
Igyarto and his wife, Ruth, are among a number of suburban residents who live along major bodies of water like the Chain O' Lakes and Fox and Des Plaines rivers. Many say they were attracted to the breathtaking views and tranquility, and that's why they're willing to stay, despite the flooding that comes with living so close.
"We came from Cicero 25 years ago," Igyarto said. "My greatest fear then was that I was going to be housebound and all I would have to look at outside my window is brick homes.
"I look out these windows now and see everything. It's heavenly to me."
Heavy rains last week led to flooding on rivers and lakes and in other areas throughout the suburbs up north and west. Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday declared Lake, McHenry and Kane counties state disaster areas, and on Sunday he added Cook County.
In preparation for the rising floodwaters of Fox Lake, Igyarto removed everything from his crawl space, including the insulation. During the last major flood in 2013, water rushed inside and damaged all the contents.
As the floodwaters recede, he'll pump out whatever water remains and clean up.
"It's aggravating, sure," he said. "But so is snow in the winter."
When he purchased his house 25 years ago, a TV news truck was parked at the end of his street on Lakeside Lane filming Fox Lake flooding. He bought the home anyway because of its location near the water.
"It didn't bother me then," he said. "I'm a hard-core canoeist and I've been through this many times."
Jan Bairstow has lived along Fox Lake lake for 75 of his 77 years - he spent two years away in the Navy - and estimates he's seen 20 floods in his lifetime. He's marked the height of each on a utility pole near his Lakeview Avenue home. This year's is about 3 inches above the previous high water mark.
He says the flooding is not so bad "if you know how to contend with it" and he has no intention of moving away from the lake.
"I love it here," said Bairstow, who splits his time between Lakeview Avenue and a summer residence on Crabapple Island. "I love that there's an island I can live on. There are no cars. ... I have peace and quiet."
To the southeast in Des Plaines, Mani and Susila Subramanian have waterfront property on a quiet street that's bordered by the Des Plaines River on three sides.
Big Bend Drive has become notorious for flooding, recording major floods to homes in 1986, 1987, 2008 and 2013.
The Subramanians bought their two-level brick home in 1984, when people said the area hadn't flooded in 50 years.
Two years later, the couple experienced their worst flood, when water filled their basement and rose a few inches onto the first floor.
"Everything was floating," Mani Subramanian said.
After more floods, he made the decision in 2013 to stop rehabbing the basement.
But the couple's house is on one of the highest points on the block and they've been spared some of the worse flood damage their neighbors have experienced. The water crept close during this flood, but only a little seeped into his basement.
Subramanian is one of the few who hasn't applied to a voluntary city flood buyout program, in which homes are bought and demolished and the land maintained as green space.
"In some ways, it's the most beautiful place to live," he said from his back deck, which abuts the river. "This is so serene outside."
Subramanian prepared for the recent flood by making sure his sump pumps were in working order - he has five of them - and having his backup generator ready to go.
He decided to stay put, recalling all the good times over the years of raising his three children, barbecues and block parties.
He jokes that he's already reserved a spot at a nearby nursing home when it's his time.
But until then, "this is my first house and this will be my last house."
• Lake County editor Chuck Keeshan contributed to this report.