Selected expenditures for flood-related property damage in Cook County, 2007-11
With its clay soils, flat topography, and historical development patterns, much of the Chicago region is prone to localized flooding and basement backups. Some places, such as the Des Plaines and Little Calumet River basins, suffer major damage from overbank flooding. Many recent community plans propose flood control projects, policy changes, and other non-structural approaches to reduce flood risk, but implementation is lagging because of limited funding. For large, federally supported flood control projects, FUND 2040 could provide part of the required local match. Similarly, many municipalities have prepared stormwater master plans, typically for more localized problems. Yet even with dedicated fees for stormwater, funding to implement the plans is in short supply.
Green infrastructure — the use of natural systems to manage stormwater — is also part of the solution. It helps reduce flood damage and cleanse water pollutants, among many other benefits. Like other forms of infrastructure, it needs to be managed, restored, and expanded. In recent years, localities have begun to rely more on engineered natural systems to handle stormwater. Rather than only directing runoff away from a site, green infrastructure techniques are incorporated into a project's design to capture or treat runoff while enhancing aesthetics. FUND 2040 could help localities develop and then implement green infrastructure projects to solve problems ranging from basement backups to poor stream water quality.
Extensive flooding in Warrenville prompted the West Branch DuPage River Flood Control and Restoration Project, a plan to identify opportunities for flood control and river corridor restoration. The $18.3 million project includes raising the profile of key roads, reconstructing bridges, and constructing berms to protect neighborhoods, as well as several environmental restoration elements. Stormwater management can also take other forms, such as updating standard practices for street reconstruction. Instead of simply repaving alleys, the Oak Park Green Alleys Program will update nine alleys with interlocking permeable pavement to reduce the volume of stormwater sent to the community's combined sewer system. FUND 2040 could help important flood control and environmental improvement projects like these to move forward.
Regional effects of water loss, all sources
The Chicago region has wrestled with the complex issue of water supply for many decades. Pumping has led to steep declines in groundwater levels, and many groundwater-dependent communities face problems with water quality. FUND 2040 could help communities shift onto more reliable, more available, or higher-quality water sources. The emphasis would be on holistic approaches that recognize the interrelated nature of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater. Aging infrastructure is also a major problem. In just the communities served by Lake Michigan, municipal water departments lose approximately $100 million per year in wasted water from deteriorating pipes. FUND 2040 would focus on local asset management to upgrade water distribution while achieving other objectives, such as street reconstruction or sewer replacement, so that the costs of all projects together would be minimized. At the same time, the root causes of underinvestment in water infrastructure must be addressed — for example, through full-cost pricing — to put local government water utilities on a path toward financial sustainability.
Fewer than one in three Chicago homes has a water meter, which would help customers lower their bill by reducing consumption and identifying potential leaks more quickly. With support from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Chicago MeterSave Program has been installing 15,000 meters per year. In addition to new meters and adjusting water rates to match the true cost of providing water, the City of Evanston is replacing older water mains each year to improve the integrity of the system. In 2013, Evanston coordinated the Davis Street Reconstruction with the replacement of the 90-year old water and sewer lines, helping to reduce future water loss.