Addressing flooding concerns in the central section of River Forest looks to be the biggest challenge for village officials after they received their first look at the stormwater master plan they commissioned in 2021.

Jeff Julkowski of Christopher B. Burke Engineering provided that first look at the March 13 village board meeting. In introducing Julkowski, Jeff Loster, director of public works and development services, explained that village staff members are seeking feedback from the board on the plan.

In a memo to Matt Walsh, interim village administrator, Loster explained that the impetus for creating the plan was “substantial” rainfall events that occurred throughout 2020. 

The main goal of the project is to assess the capacity of the village’s combined sewer system to accommodate rain events of various severity, he said. Additional efforts would then be implemented to determine what improvements could be made to increase the capacity of the sewer system based on the village’s desired level of protection and available levels of funding.

Identifying the three main drainage areas as the north, central and south sections of the village, Julkowski explained that the types of flooding include overland flooding, yard flooding, riverine flooding, and sewer backup. For the purposes of the River Forest plan, sewer backup was identified as the primary focus and yard flooding was not included.

While the south section has a series of relief sewers to supplement capacity and the 2013 Northside Stormwater project created a new separate sewer system for the north section, Julkowski said the central section has traditional combined sewers with very limited capacity although the Lake Street area has relief sewers that improve capacity.

The central section “has been very challenging for us,” Julkowski said, noting that it is a large drainage area with few open-space opportunities, limited outfall capacity to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and long distances for sewer separation.

Potential improvement projects he identified are an expansion of the relief sewer network in the south section at an estimated cost of $6.9 million; completion of Phase 2 of the Northside project at an estimated cost of $11.4 million; and creating underground storage vaults under Keystone Park and Franklin Avenue in the Lake Street section of the central section at an estimated cost of $9.1 million.

For the rest of the central section, however, Julkowski could only present two feasibility concepts, both of which he said would take years to implement. One concept involves creating storage vaults under streets and keeping combined sewers, at an estimated cost of $80 million, and the other would fully separate the stormwater and sewage sewers at an estimated cost of $67 million. 

In response to a question from Trustee Katie Brennan, Julkowski identified the area from Division Street and Oak Street and the full width of the village as the area at highest risk.

In response to a question from Trustee Respicio Vazquez, Loster said officials need to first establish the scope of work. After that, each project would be broken down and funding opportunities would be explored.

“Anything we do will improve the situation,” he added.

“We need a multi-prong approach,” Trustee Lisa Gillis said, including promoting green alternatives to alleviate flooding and encouraging individual homeowners to install backflow valves or overhead sewers. 

“This is just the start of the conversation,” Village President Cathy Adduci said. “This is just us thinking ahead.”

She suggested holding community meetings to obtain resident input on the plan.

“All ideas are good,” she said. “We’ll keep talking and do what’s best for the village.”

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