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Editorial: What to do, short of building an ark, to handle a torrential rain

Heavy Rains Create Flooding In Chicago

Heavy Rains Create Flooding In Chicago

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Updated: May 20, 2013 7:50PM

Let’s hope you weren’t running your dishwasher Thursday or taking that long, luxurious shower as a reward for getting yourself in out of the cold rain.

If you did, all that water just added to the flooding headaches throughout the Chicago area.

Those torrential storms that swept through this week should remind us there’s much more we can do as individuals and a region to slow the rush of water through sewers into creeks and rivers after heavy downpours, which causes heavy flooding. On Thursday, basements were full of water, flights were canceled, swamped roads were impassable, a sinkhole swallowed three cars and locks were opened along Lake Michigan to allow a surge of stormwater and sewage to flow into the lake.

One major line of defense, the region’s unfinished 109-mile Deep Tunnel system, was filled to capacity by 3:30 a.m., and the water kept coming. The Metropolitan Water and Reclamation District needs to move up the scheduled date for the last piece of the system, a reservoir that can hold 10 billion gallons. Right now, it’s not set for completion until 2029.

MWRD also should move quickly to finalize its stormwater management ordinance to reduce flooding in the watershed. The ordinance is scheduled to be approved this spring or early summer, and it’s important it not be delayed.

The rest of us can help out by doing our own “green engineering.” Parking lots and alleys can be surfaced with permeable pavers that let stormwater seep into the ground. Parts of lawns can be dedicated to native plants with deep roots that let rain soak downward instead of running off shallow-rooted turn grass. Rain barrels can collect water from downspouts.

Our system originally was designed to channel stormwater into sewers and then into waterways, but those waterways can’t handle it anymore. We need a greener plumbing system if we don’t want more of this week’s flooding.

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