Jun 29, 2007

Chicagoans Question City Rain Blocker System

Heavy rains leave residents underwater, unhappy

A brief downpour proved devastating Tuesday, leaving more than 1,000 Chicago homes flooded. The water disappeared by Wednesday, but heaps of trash bags and rolls of destroyed carpeting served as reminders of the importance of a solid city storm water management system.The City of Chicago installed a $75 million “rain blocker” system about eight years ago in order to reduce the flow of water into sewers and prevent them from overflowing. But with every storm comes more flooding and more finger pointing.Chicagoans, including Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) are left wondering whether rain blockers are Chicago's best flooding solution. Mell, whose basement flooded with water overflowing from the streets on Tuesday, has fielded more than a dozen requests from residents that the rain blockers be removed. Nearly 800 devices have been taken out by request, but most city officials insist that the 4 in. of rain that fell within 45 minutes across parts of the North Side is simply overwhelming.“There was a huge amount of rain in a very short period of time,” said Tom LaPorte, spokesman for the city’s Water Management Department. “I don’t know any system that could have absorbed it.”The rain blockers’ grates keep water on the street during heavy rain storms so as to keep it from backing up in sewers and flooding basements via drains. But water in the streets, too, can pose a unique problem when it pours through basement windows. Tuesday’s storm brought about hundreds of flooded basement reports to the Department of Water Management, as well as 300 reports of flooded streets and six reports of flooded viaducts.City crews will pump standing water out of basements, but residents bear the remainder of cleanup responsibilities. The Department of Streets and Sanitation spent much of Wednesday collecting flood-damaged belongings from North and Northwest side alleys. City officials’ final tally of the storm’s “moderate” damage included 212 tree emergencies and 92 traffic signal outages.