Happy 6th Birthday to the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Happy 6th Birthday to the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative

CSC Service Day Field Trip to a Space to Grow Schoolyard (June 2019)

Amid the anxiety, doubt and, for many, personal tragedy of the COVID-19 crisis, some things are still things worth celebrating. Please join us in commemorating the six-year anniversary of the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative.

When it rains, stormwater flows across the landscape irrespective of lines on a map. It follows the path of least resistance and, along the way, can pass through multiple districts, municipalities, and other jurisdictions. Flooding doesn't abide by municipal boundaries, and neither should solutions. That's why MPC launched the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative (CSC), a unique and internationally-recognized model of stormwater management and interagency collaboration.

The CSC is a diverse group of stakeholdersincluding municipalities, government agencies, nonprofits, conservation groups, land owners and managers, associations, and moreworking to improve coordination of knowledge, technology, and financial resources to minimize the negative impacts of stormwater. 

We use the “collective impact” model to address stormwater and flooding issues in the Calumet region of Illinois, a problem too large for any single unit of government or other organization to tackle on its own. And MPC is honored to play the role of backbone organization for this amazing group of collaborators which has accomplished so much in the six years of its existence and is now working on the implementation of its current 3-year Work Plan.

History of the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative

The CSC is one of the priority projects of the Calumet Collaborative (formerly the Millennium Reserve). Our first meeting was held on April 8, 2014, led by MPC’s Josh Ellis. “The basic premise at the time was that throughout the Illinois portion of the Calumet regionessentially the southern suburbs of Cook County and the southernmost part of Chicagothere were many, many organizations working on different aspects of stormwater management but with minimal coordination,” says Josh. “The CSC was formed to create an opportunity for coordination, and it has also become a forum for shared learning and a creative community developing new research, planning tools and more.”

What is the Calumet?

From a stormwater perspective, the Calumet region can be understood as both the drainage basin of the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant (in southeast Chicago at 130th St.) or as the Little Calumet and Cal-Sag Channel watersheds. It extends well into northern Indiana too, though to date the CSC has focused its efforts in Illinois.

This region suffers from riverine flooding in some places but has chronic issues with urban flooding, stemming from historic land-use decisions, declining infrastructure sufficiency and increasingly severe storms. In the Calumet, these issues are further compounded by the region’s characteristic flat topography and soil types.

This combination of factors result in flooded basements, closed streets and businesses, and municipalities which struggle to maintain existing stormwater infrastructure let alone budget for new investments.

In the initial months, participants discussed the resources their organizations brought to the table, the fundamental challenges in the target geography, the group’s vision and guiding principles, as well as ground rules for how the CSC would operate. These early meetings resulted in a list of eleven Priority Intervention Actions which included foundational knowledge-building actions (cataloguing existing stormwater work in the Calumet region, identifying data and research needs, determining to to leverage technology), capacity building and planning actions (developing local watershed plans and models, aligning on a shared vision for green infrastructure), opportunities for near-term Collaborative impact actions, and more. Read the CSC's first quarterly report here.

In subsequent years, CSC members identified and established four working groups centered around different collective actions: Data & Modeling, Planning & Policy, Education & Outreach, and Training & Maintenance. 

An era of big accomplishments

Many great resources have been developed by CSC member agencies with support from the working groups. These include:

CSC 3-year Work Plan

More recently, the CSC established and launched its current 3-year Work Plan. Developed over the course of eight months, this work plan focuses on:

  1. Significant reduction in urban flooding;
  2. Grey and green infrastructure which maintains its designed performance over time;
  3. Increased municipal capacity and reduced fragmentation across Calumet government actors; and
  4. Data-driven decision-making in stormwater management planning.

Each of these is connected to a Foundational Activity to help the CSC achieve its desired Collective Impact that, in 10 years, the Calumet region will be able to effectively manage wet weather and be resilient to future events under a changing climate

Multi-phased activities related to building datasets and local capacity

In order to achieve the goals set forth in the work plan, the CSC identified four discrete activities worth focusing on  in the next few years:

  • Establish baseline understanding of existing green infrastructure: In 2019, MPC convened a group of advisors to discuss the feasibility of and need for establishing a baseline understanding of existing green infrastructure. That is, to help address urban flooding in the Calumet region, we need to know the location, performance and maintenance status of existing green infrastructure. The assessment concluded that planners and other agencies working at a regional scale would be likely users of the inventory. With the feasibility and need established, MPC is currently applying for funding to build the inventory and, subsequently, strategically pursue installations of new green infrastructure with our CSC partners.
  • Establish baseline understanding of urban flooding: FEMA floodplain maps tell a different story than analyses of flood insurance payouts, such as the flood equity report released by CNT in 2018. For example, the area around the CTA’s  95th St. Red Line station on the FEMA Flood Map shows no flooding (because there is very little riverine flooding within the City of Chicago), whereas CNT's Interactive Map shows the whole area lit up bright red, indicating 5,000+ flood insurance claims between 2007 and 2016. To better manage stormwater, we need a better understanding of where flooding occurs. CNT received funding to help CSC members move toward a comprehensive understanding of non-overbank flooding—or urban flooding—in the Calumet region in order to strategically pursue future activities, like green infrastructure site selection, where they are needed most.
  • Develop trainings and management models to bolster green infrastructure maintenance: The CSC's Training & Maintenance Work Group worked with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), the Water Environment Federation and other partners to bring the NGICP Training to Chicago. Also, the 5-day NGICP course was adapted to a 1-day, 8-hour training, the first of which was held on March 10, 2020. The Work Group is also working with Purdue University and CSC member organizations to adapt the Rainscaping Master Gardener Training to Illinois. Finally, they are collaborating with workforce development agencies to advance a Shared Services Model and developing guidance and model language for green infrastructure procurement contracts. (They’ve been busy!) All of this has been in the service of improving systematic delivery and quality of green infrastructure maintenance services by arranging for installation/maintenance training for key audiences and providing tools/training on budgeting, planning, and accountability for maintenance work.
  • Establish baseline understanding of municipal capacity in stormwater management: The original plan of the CSC's Municipal Outreach & Engagement Work Group was to develop a survey to document Calumet municipalities’ capacity to manage, plan and invest in stormwater solutions. Instead, they were able to pivot and contributed to MWRD's Municipal Staff Survey on Urban Flooding, part of their Stormwater Master Planning process. With that survey complete, the Work Group is now brainstorming activities for the CSC to increase municipal capacity and discussing alignment with other working group activities in order to strategically prioritize future activities, like shared-services.

Looking ahead

We are currently in Phase I of the CSC’s current 3-year Work Plan. Once the three baselines are established, we can begin utilizing the outputs of the Phase I activities to strategically decide on next steps and, with updated data in hand, measure our long-term collective impact.

MPC has been thrilled to help facilitate CSC meetings these past six years as well as participate as members of the Collaborative ourselves! A survey is currently underway to help determine the ways CSC members are working, collaborating, and building capacity across the Calumet region. In the meantime, CSC members continue to meet monthly (even virtually while we all “shelter in place”), and the network’s impact continues to grow. 

During this era of COVID-19 lockdown, the CSC celebrated its six-year anniversary with its first-ever virtual meeting on April 3, 2020. “I’m very proud of the community the CSC has become, “ said MPC’s Josh Ellis. “Even in the midst of this weird new normal we’re in, dozens of CSC members came together in a virtual space to discuss things like what CSC can do to prepare Calumet communities for the likelihood of spring floods and basement backups in a time where we’re asking everyone to stay in their homes.”

We wish to express our sincere gratitude and thanks to all of the organizations represented over the past 12 monthsand, really, over the last six yearsand we appreciate your continued engagement during these most unique times:


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