Water has nothing to do but flood in a world of asphalt - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Water has nothing to do but flood in a world of asphalt

News report on how development has impacted flooding problems in Lake County.

In the 18 years between the floods of 1986 and 2004, Lake County created a storm water management agency to help contain the Des Plaines River.

The county also added a lot of asphalt. By 1995, just three years after that agency began its work, half of the county's land was classified as "urban, built-up."

Those impulses collided this month in the river's flowing water: a flood control law dictating what can be built near the river, and the development many planners said adds to the river's volume by blocking the land's ability to absorb rain.

County officials and municipal planners agree the ordinance reduced the woes of this spring's flood, compared to the flood of 1986.

But the rate of development throughout the Des Plaines River watershed - the area that drains into the river - since 1986 means a higher volume of water added to the water flow.

"The public and the private sector have to do lots of little things to solve the problem," said Ward Miller, director of the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission. "It's going to be decades of small solutions to solve the problems."

The ordinance bans new homes, businesses and strip malls built since 1992 from creating more storm water runoff than there was before development, Miller said. It's been the solution for flood control within Lake County for the watersheds of smaller rivers and streams, he said.

Yet the ordinance cannot control development outside Lake County. Nor can it control storms that dump 5 inches of rain in the Des Plaines River's headwaters.

It's hard to fight a river that wants to expand, said Scott Goldstein, vice president of policy and planning for the Metropolitan Planning Council , a group of business and civic leaders promoting good planning and development.

"The Des Plaines will want to flood every once in a while, and we can't prevent that," Goldstein said.

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