The city should create new green infrastructure and invest in existing infrastructure to address urban flooding. Many communities in Chicago, especially those on the South and West Sides, flood repeatedly. A single severe rainstorm in 2013 caused 2,500 “water in basement” and 800 “water on street” complaints, damages to businesses, and flooding at train stations and bus stops across the city. Flooding disproportionately affects minority and low-income neighborhoods: many of the zip codes with the highest amount of damages correspond with census tracts identified as economically disconnected. Additionally, the city’s drinking water source Lake Michigan is increasingly at risk of pollution from sewage and stormwater overflows. Area waterways also suffer from water quality impairments affecting aquatic and riparian habitats.
To address the chronic urban flooding problems facing the City of Chicago and build more resilient communities, the City of Chicago needs to:
Recommendation: Accelerate green infrastructure investments that use natural features and parkland to hold and manage stormwater, particularly in communities in the South and West sides.
Recommendation: Accelerate maintenance of existing green infrastructure and grey infrastructure
Recommendation: Update the city’s Stormwater Ordinance to stricter requirements, with forward-looking precipitation assumptions, while accommodating new options such as stormwater credit trading or fee in-lieu programs, much like those implemented in Washington, D.C.
First 100 Day Actions
- Convene relevant city departments and agencies to coordinate implementation of the original Green Stormwater Infrastructure Strategy. Conduct preliminary research, detailed modeling and analyses to update the Strategy
- Task relevant city departments to develop a report detailing new infrastructure and ongoing maintenance of the city’s sewers and stormwater systems on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, comparing known flooding risks, climate projections, etc.
- Commit the city to actions and investments to bring all areas of Chicago to at least a 20-year storm event level of protection.
- Recommit the city to active participation in the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative.
First Year Actions and Goals
- Partner with MPC and The Nature Conservancy on StormStore™- establishing a stormwater credit trading program for the City of Chicago, including an examination of changes/updates to the City’s Stormwater Ordinance.
- Expand the city’s Resilient Corridor effort and Space to Grow partnership.
- Set forth a process to develop a City of Chicago Stormwater Master Plan that documents priority areas for grey and green infrastructure installation and/or maintenance to inform future city efforts, as well as those by partners and regional funders.
First Term Goals
- Conduct research and determine next steps in viable options for securing sustainable, dedicated revenue (e.g. stormwater utility fees).
- Enhance maintenance and monitoring of grey and green infrastructure throughout the city, especially focusing on previously underserved neighborhoods, as well as past city investments, such as Space to Grow and Resilient Corridor sites.
- Demonstrate progress implementing the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Strategy 2.0 and City of Chicago Stormwater Master Plan.
Why the time is right
Much of the city’s stormwater infrastructure was built decades ago and is already insufficient for today’s rain levels, let alone future storms. Chicago is expected to receive more intense and more frequent storms due to climate change. In the Resilient Chicago strategy, storms, severe flooding and infrastructure failure are the top threats to the city’s ability to function.
What it will take
Increasing green and grey infrastructure, bolstering maintenance, and innovating new solutions like stormwater credit trading will take heightened funding and transparency, coordination and forward-thinking vision from city staff, in particular the Department of Water Management. Consistent budget allocation is required alongside exploring options for dedicated sustainable revenue for stormwater management. City departments and agencies must also coordinate with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) as well as other surrounding municipalities, and metro Chicago regional planning, water, technology and environmental entities.
Alignment with other Initiatives and Priorities of City or Partners
First created in 2014, the city’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure Strategy was developed, but not fully implemented. The Resilient Chicago strategy released in February 2019 to advance urban resilience—including to storms and floods—calls for heightened actions to address stormwater management.
MWRD is a critical partner in the city’s stormwater management efforts. MWRD’s Watershed Management Ordinance is regularly updated to revise requirements for stormwater controls. Equitable stormwater management is central to the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative, a diverse group of 40 active member agencies facilitated by MPC to heighten coordination around flooding in the City of Chicago’s South Side and 50+ suburban Cook County municipalities.