Massive quarry is DuPage County's first line of flood defense
Nearly 30 years ago, a massive storm flooded thousands of homes along the Des Plaines River and Salt Creek -- forever changing the way DuPage County deals with stormwater issues.
The county pursued major flood control projects, including transforming a former quarry into a reservoir capable of storing up to 2.7 billion gallons of water.
Through the years, the Elmhurst Quarry Flood Control Facility between Route 83 and Highland Avenue has -- along with other reservoir sites -- helped keep Salt Creek inside its banks during heavy rains.
"I think it has saved taxpayers and businesses in DuPage County hundreds of millions of dollars," said Jim Zay, chairman of the county's stormwater management committee.
DuPage's flood control efforts got rolling after widespread flooding in August 1987 caused parts of Cook and DuPage counties to be declared disaster areas.
"The flood of 1987 convinced everybody we had a problem -- and that we needed to find a different way to solve it," said Anthony Charlton, DuPage's director of stormwater management.
State lawmakers that year approved legislation that allowed the collar counties to create their own regional stormwater programs.
By 1989, DuPage had drafted its own stormwater management plan which emphasized storing -- instead of conveying -- stormwater.
County leaders also won legislative approval to levy a countywide property tax that helps generate about $12 million a year for flood control projects.
That made it possible for DuPage to construct several Salt Creek reservoirs. It also bought the Elmhurst quarry in 1992 from Elmhurst-Chicago Stone Co. for $36 million.
Another $28 million was spent constructing the facility, which was used for the first time in 1996.
The quarry includes a gate to take in Salt Creek waters whenever the county deems it necessary. On average, the facility is operated twice a year.
Charlton said there have been five instances since 1998 when at least 75 percent of the quarry's 2.7 billion gallon capacity was used. One of those times -- in 2008 -- the quarry was filled.
"It's my professional opinion that it has proved itself many times," Charlton said.
"We still might have floods," Zay said. "You can never say we're not going to flood. But I know this helps minimize a lot of those issues through the Salt Creek area."