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Flooded Basements Could Eventually Be A Good Thing

By JoshMogerman in News on Jul 13, 2014 8:30PM

(Photo: ropesack)

Flooding in Chicagoland last night… Seems like this summer’s refrain, as heavy storms again brought too much rain which fell too quickly and overloaded area stormwater systems; flooded expressways, closed Taste of Chicago and made a particularly big mess in the southwest suburbs, according to the Tribune:

Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki said the Parkside neighborhood in his village -- east of Oak Park Avenue and south of 167th Street -- was flooded after several inches of rain fell, including some roads being flooded.

He said the village's ground is saturated after being hit hard by the storm. He said if they'd had the same kind of rain spread out over four or five hours, they'd be okay, but when it's coming down in an hour or two, "The system just can't take it."

This comes just a couple weeks after Chicago’s combined sewer system was deluged, sending so much tainted water into the Chicago River that it flowed backwards into Lake Michigan…again.

It is an increasing problem. Chicago has long been a leader in testing new solutions like green infrastructure tools that augment the region’s undersized and dilapidated stormwater system— stuff like green roofs, rain barrels and permeable pavement that collect, hold and filter rain where it falls so that it doesn’t enter the sewer system. And more is on the way.

But look northwards and there may be some lessons yet to be learned. For years we’ve pointed the finger at Milwaukee as the source of Lake Michigan's ickiness. But the Cheeseheads have gone all-in on green infrastructure tools to limit sewage escaping into the Great Lakes. And they might just have found a novel new tool in the flooding fight…


In Chicago, flooded basements are one of the most visible manifestations of our stormwater woes. But Milwaukee is looking to turn them into a tool in the fight against two different urban scourges— the foreclosure crisis and limited water infrastructure.

The City is investigating the feasibility of turning abandoned home basements into cisterns. By diverting rainwater from seemingly increasingly frequent violent storms into empty basements, the blighting properties are transformed into a valuable resource in safeguarding neighboring homes. It’s a brilliant concept and Milwaukee’s study of options around a single City-owned property makes it clear that flooding abandoned basements to keep other houses dry might be a cheap option in other places rife with abandoned properties that suffer through flooding problems…like the South side and southern suburbs.