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Governor promises $10 million for reservoir improvements
"We’ve got to deal with this reservoir and we’ve got to deal with it properly,” Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said at a press conference Saturday in Burbank.
Watch a video of the press conference
Speaking from the Melvina Ditch Reservoir and flanked by Burbank Mayor Harry Klein and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) president Kathleen Meany, Quinn announced plans to expand and improve the reservoir.
Critics have long blamed the Melvina Ditch Reservoir as the chief source of the city’s flooding problems during heavy rainstorms. Many residents maintain the buildup of sediment over the years has reduced the the reservoir’s capacity, thus hampering it’s ability to retain storm-water.
Quinn stated at the press conference, “We have the financial resources that we can work with the District on big, big projects and specific ones like this one so we can get the job done for home owners and business owners all across this metropolitan area of Chicago.”
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Kathleen Meany said, “Particularly important to this community of Burbank...the governor is committed financially to support a project right here at Melvina Ditch which will help reduce the flooding during these historical rain events that are occurring more frequently than ever.”
Both Quinn and Meany acknowledged the frustration of residents and the sense of urgency in the community for a solution to Burbank’s chronic flood problems.
“I think the key words we heard right now are expeditiously. I know firsthand just watching on TV and reading the news stories that folks here are really, really frustrated,” Quinn said.
“We understand the frustration of the neighbors and the community, and we really hope to be able to move forward on this quickly to alleviate the suffering,” said Meany.
“I know people are sick and tired of flooding basements. I know firsthand what you’re talking about. It’s important that we work together to make sure we take on this challenge and make sure we put the people first,” Meany continued.
Burbank Mayor Harry Klein is quoted in the press release as saying, “I wholeheartedly thank the state of Illinois and, in particular, Governor Quinn for coming to the aid of all Burbank residents. The grant monies will be put to good use to better the lives of many Burbank households and their families who suffer from repetitive flooding problems.”
When asked what specifically the $10 million would be used for, Quinn said, “Well we work with the folks that are the experts here who work on water every single day. My job is to get them the resources to do that job...”
Asked if the reservoir would be expanded by purchasing surrounding homes, Quinn said, “I don’t want to presume to know the exact plan but there is going to be action, not just a plan.”
At the contentious September 10th Burbank City Council meeting with MWRD officials in attendance, Mayor Harry Klein squarely blamed the shortcomings of the Melvina Ditch Reservoir for the flooding which occurred across the city on August 22.
In a prepared opening statement, Klein said the reservoir did not have adequate volume and that siltation accumulation severely compromised the storage capacity of the reservoir. Klein also said that in a meeting with MWRD officials, he expressed that it is the city’s contention that, “expansion of the reservoir should be studied and in our opinion should be done.”
Watch a video of the Mayor's opening statement
Addressing the City Council and audience members, MWRD director of engineering Catherine O’Connor admitted the reservoir didn’t have the capacity to hold all the storm-water but said a recently completed study by the MWRD confirmed that the reservoir is (essentially) still at full capacity with siltation accounting for less than a 1 percent loss of storage capacity.
An engineer for the City of Burbank said, “We are aware that back in the late 80s they did remove a sled hill in the southwest corner and was put at the bottom of the reservoir. So there is some fill that did go into the bottom of the reservoir back in the late 80s. There is a possibility of some siltation, I haven’t seen their [MWRD] study but certainly we’re talking about maybe, we’re not talking about a lot. We’re talking about maybe 5 percent storage capacity [loss].”
When asked by Mayor Klein what a 5 percent loss of capacity equates to, the engineer replied, “Just doing a quick calculation we’re in the range of somewhere 7 to 10 acre-feet so that’s 3 million gallons.”
“3 million gallons of water that could be better absorbed if they excavated that reservoir many years ago?” Klein asked.
“It’s a small factor that certainly can help,” the engineer said, “It’s not a solution.”
Another issue on which Mayor Klein and the MWRD disagree, is the need for a backup generator at the reservoir’s pumping station.
Mayor Klein said that on August 22 while the city was flooding, “Our Fire Chief at 8:30 entered the pump-house at 87th St. reservoir and found that one of the three main pumps was inoperative. The pump was inoperative owing to a problem with a ComEd transformer being down and no electrical backup to bring pumping capacity up to 100 percent.”
Mayor Klein stated that he’d like to see a “turn key” generator installed at the pumping station to preclude the loss of power.
O’Connor said, “The pump station was designed with with two independent feeds from Commonwealth Edison. So that’s better than a generator. That’s how we run our wastewater treatment plants. They have completely independent feeds. If they both go down we can get a generator out there quickly.”
MWRD engineers acknowledge the need for a bigger reservoir but say that is only part of the solution to Burbank’s flooding issues.
John Murray, MWRD managing civil engineer said at the City Council meeting, “We built it [the reservoir] back in the day using rainfall data that now we know is inaccurate. There’s a new rainfall standard. So we need to look and reassess that reservoir and make it bigger.”
Discussing other needed improvements, Murray said, “We just can’t look at, ‘make the reservoir bigger.’ Of course the reservoir needs to be bigger. Then we have to work with the city to see if there’s improvements that need to be made in the local storm-water system to get the water to the bigger reservoir. That’s what we’re going to work together to do.”
“It’s just not as simple as make the reservoir bigger. Your storm sewer system, it’s spread throughout the whole town, is designed probably to a 5 or 10 year level event. So when you get a hundred year event, when you get that much rain in 30 minutes, it doesn’t matter how big that hole in the ground is. It still’s got to get to that hole in the ground.”
The MWRD insists that in addition to infrastructure improvements, residents must take an active role to alleviate floods in the city by making improvements to their property.
Addressing a homeowner whose house had been recently flooded, Murray said, “We’re all involved in this problem. It’s a large, large problem. There’s only so many pipes you can put in the ground, there’s only so many holes you can dig in the ground. At the end of the day, every one of us is going to have to be part of the solution. If every one of these houses had even a rain barrel, one rain barrel on a downspout holding 55 gallons all upstream of here, that water doesn’t get down by where you live out by the reservoir. So we look at this, it’s a long-term solution. We need to find things that homeowners that aren’t in the flooded areas can do to keep the water on their property a little bit longer so it doesn’t come down and flood you. The way they can do that is with rain barrels, rain gardens, and large cisterns.”
Improvements to flood control systems can’t come soon enough for those residents whose houses have flooded three times already this year. Though government officials promise quick action, MWRD engineers say it may take many months for some refinements to take place and years for others.
Murray outlined the steps the MWRD plans to take moving forward.
Step one is to remove accumulated sediment, if that is indeed a problem. Work could begin in a matter of months but Murray refused to commit to a timeline.
“We’ve done surveying work, the city’s done surveying work. We’re going to get together, compare our notes, figure out if there’s sediment built up in their and we’re going to get it out. That’s the immediate plan, as soon as we can. I can’t tell you tomorrow, I’m not going to give you a date,” Murray said.
Step two is to increase the volume of the reservoir. Digging deeper seems the most immediate solution but MWRD officials haven’t ruled out the purchase of surrounding homes in order to enlarge the footprint of the reservoir. The MWRD hopes to have a plan by summer of 2015.
Murray said, “We’re going to do a fast-track preliminary engineering plan to figure out how much bigger that we can make this reservoir and get that design by the summer of next year and break ground expanding that reservoir hopefully next fall.”
Step three is a long term study to look at how the Bedford Park Reservoir interacts with the Melvina Ditch Reservoir and see if there’s improvements that can be made.
“We’re going to do a longer-term study that might take a year or a year and a half, working with the city, working with the downstream communities, working with upstream communities to figure out what’s the best solution for these two reservoirs and with the main system. That’s where we’re at,” Murray said.
The September 10th Burbank City Council meeting quickly turned into a fiasco when the chamber quickly filled to capacity 20 minutes before the meeting was to begin. After the fire chief determined the room was at maximum occupancy, police officers began turning people away. A line of angry citizens wound down the hall, down the stairs, and spilled out onto the front lawn of City Hall.
The meeting room was packed and hot. All seats were filled and many people were left to stand or sit on the floor for almost 2 hours.
Asked if the meeting could have been handled better, Klein responded, “You’re asking me to project what I should have done, what I could have done and I can’t answer that question. I thought we would be adequate for what the needs of the city were. The last event we had, I didn’t even fill the seats when they came to address us. I think that was after the flood in June."
Several times during the course of the meeting, residents suggested that a town hall type meeting be scheduled at the Reavis High School auditorium to allow all concerned citizens the chance to participate and be heard.
The Mayor would not commit to another meeting but said he would consider it.
“Let’s find out what we’re going to meet for. If we're going to meet just for another yelling fest that’s not going to be beneficial. If I see something tangible coming out of it, yes, I will have another meeting so that you can address what has been done to alleviate some of the problems,” Klein said.
“I said that before, you know the City’s not averse, we had a meeting at Reavis High School when we had the problem, okay? So I’m not averse to that but I think that people have an obligation to be respectful and to listen to what’s being said,” the Mayor commented.
Klein concluded the meeting by saying, “I understand there is nothing the City can say to placate you when you had a problem with your basement being lost, with your furniture being lost, and I was involved with it myself. So let us work getting the job done. We can stand here again and talk about it forever. We’ll get it done I promise you.”
“So I know the problem. We’re trying to address the problem. Give us the time to do it. I’ll get back to everybody in the city and let them know what we’re doing, but again give us the time to do it." ❒
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