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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

City Officials Find It Difficult to Treat Sewage Damage

In the wake of a record-setting rain storm that left dozens of homes across Berwyn flooded Saturday, the mayor and City Council discussed options the city has when it comes to flooding – but they're few and far between.

Some homes, including those of Mayor Robert Lovero and Third Ward Alderman Marge Paul, have seen sewage backups flood their basements three times in the last 13 months. Sewage backups usually occur when rainwater gets into the sewer system and creates back pressure, forcing it into people's basements.

In part, Lovero blamed improbably heavy rains for the spate of flooding.

“The fact of the matter is that as a municipality, there's no way that we can protect against these rainfalls,” Lovero said. “A 100-year rainfall means there's a 1 percent chance a year it will happen. Unfortunately, it's hit us two years in a row.”

After last year's flooding, the city investigated upgrading the city's sewer system, only to find that it would cost more than $150 million, said Public Works Director Bob Schiller.

Currently, the city has sewers rated for a five-year storm. The upgrades discussed after last year's flooding would bring the city up to 10-year storm protection. But both Saturday's storm and last July's storms were considered 100-year events, and even an upgraded system would not be adequate to evacuate the torrential rains seen over the last year.

Some of the basements flooded in the weekend storm occurred after homeowners made upgrades after last year's storms.

According to Schiller, one simple thing residents of older homes can do is to check to see if their gutters run into the city's sewer system. Some older homes have downspouts that run into clay pipes about four to six inches in diameter. Those clay pipes are typically routed into the city's sewer, which overwhelms the system and caused backups, Schiller said.

Those with such gutter systems are advised to route their gutters out of those clay pipes, and instead discharge their gutters six to eight feet from there house. That could spare the homeowner -- and their neighbor -- from flooding.

Lovero said that he's been in discussions with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District as well as the Metropolitan Sanitary District in hopes of figuring out what went wrong and what could be done to prevent future flooding.

According to Lovero, both entities followed standard protocol and opened channels and locks according to data and protocol.

While no quick fixes were found, both Lovero and Schiller said that they hope to have a public meeting including representatives from several local sewage and water bodies, as well as home flooding prevention experts sometime later this spring to educate citizens about protecting their homes from flooding.

That meeting should occur sometime towards the end of the summer or in the early fall, Schiller said.

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