Well-managed natural assets

MPC works to ensure metropolitan Chicago is managing all potential water supplies—from Lake Michigan to stormwater—to support both current and future uses
Photo by John W. Iwanski

A Smart Response to Urban Flooding: Calumet Stormwater Collaborative

When heavy rains fall and flood your home, it may seem like there’s nothing you can do about it besides clean up the resulting mess on your own. The Calumet Stormwater Collaborative, facilitated by MPC since 2014, has a very different message: working together can have a positive impact on managing stormwater and even floods. The group’s mission is to improve the coordination of stormwater management across the city neighborhoods and suburbs that comprise the Calumet region, identify challenges and work toward solutions.

The work of the Collaborative is especially relevant in light of several trends affecting this part of the country. First, the Midwest has experienced increased rain fall—and flooding—in recent years. At the same time, because there is more pavement in our communities, there is less opportunity for water to soak into the ground. Instead, it flows into our sewer systems, which are inconsistently and insufficiently maintained. The result, in some cases, is that there is simply nowhere for water to go—so it backs up onto our streets and into our basements.

And, of course, when there’s a heavy rain, it’s usually not just a costly issue for one community, but for many communities.

Students at Paul Revere School

Students at Paul Revere School in Blue Island, Ill., give a thumbs up to managing stormwater.

“Stormwaters don’t respect boundaries of different communities,” says Chris King, an MPC board member and president of Robinson Engineering, which is based in south suburban South Holland, Ill., and has worked for many communities in the region. “When you talk about rain fall and flooding, it’s really a regional issue. You need a more comprehensive approach.”

That is where the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative comes in. “We are identifying common needs of communities in the region,” says Josh Ellis, MPC program director. “Better data on rainfall and soil composition will lead to better decisions. Now everyone is at the same table, talking about these solutions.”

In Blue Island, Ill., just south of Chicago, for example, local, regional and state governments worked together to initiate a number of infrastructure projects designed to manage stormwater, including “green infrastructure” efforts such as alleys constructed of permeable materials for one neighborhood. By participating in the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative, those partners found an ally that could help link their projects to construction and local labor sources. The neighborhood’s stormwater management efforts will be featured at a national conference this fall.

Another example of the Collaborative’s work involves the Morton Arboretum. At a Collaborative meeting, the Arboretum described their plans to plant trees all over the Chicago area. A number of Collaborative members quickly expressed their interest in coordinating with the Arboretum, knowing that strategic tree plantings would benefit their communities. The Arboretum also gathers aerial data that provides valuable information about area water, and these photos are now a resource to the Collaborative.

“The Collaborative has brought regulatory agencies, engineers and many groups together to address this issue regionally. I can’t say enough about the Collaborative—the group really knows how to get the right people at the table.”

—Karen Kreis, Trustee, Midlothian, Ill.

Karen Kreis, a trustee (and resident) of Midlothian, Ill., a suburb southwest of Chicago, confirms that “Flooding seems to have been exacerbated by the frequency of rains—not just here, but all over the country.” One group, dubbed the Midlothian Floodlothians, is addressing stormwater on the most local level—in their community. “On a broad level, what the Collaborative has done is get regulatory agencies, engineers and many groups together to address this issue regionally,” says Kreis. “I can’t say enough about the Collaborative—the group really knows how to get the right people at the table.”

Mary Ellen Guest, executive director of the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association, adds that “Some Chicago bungalow owners deal with flooding issues every time it rains, but most deal with floods during significant rain events, such at the 100-year rain of April 2013.”

Guest says that the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative meets a specific need for her organization. “We joined the Collaborative to learn more about all of the complex issues surrounding stormwater management—and also to connect to organizations that will help our residents deal with flooding. There’s another reason why this issue is so important: Stormwater damage lowers property values for homeowners. For most folks, their home is their single most important asset and the impact of decreased value is significant.”

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For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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