Twenty miles outside Chicago lies the suburban village of South Holland, which has experienced more than its share of flood woes. The Little Calumet River is just one of three waterways bordering the village. Flat topography means floods can cover a large area and are slow to recede.
In South Holland’s early years, flooding was less of a concern because development avoided the marshy areas around flowing water. However, the situation changed in the second half of the 20th century as South Holland and surrounding communities underwent a great deal of development. Two key factors contributed to more frequent and damaging floods:.
More structures and paved surfaces meant a greater volume of runoff during heavy rains.
Development also encroached on previously unoccupied floodplain areas. These factors contributed to more frequent and damaging floods over the years.
South Holland’s flood problems came to a head with severe flooding in November 1990. The Little Calumet River took four days to recede. At that point, South Holland officials agreed to take more active steps in addressing flood mitigation.
The Floodplain Management Plan
Following the 1990 deluge, South Holland citizens and leaders worked together to form the Flood Liaison Committee. The committee explored how other towns across the country had approached the issue of flood mitigation, borrowing elements that appeared feasible given South Holland’s resources and environment.
After thorough study, the Flood Liaison Committee developed a comprehensive Floodplain Management Plan in 1994. The plan has since been updated in 2000; key features of the plan include:
Construction of a diversion channel and flood storage reservoir
Building regulations based on elevation
Regular inspection and maintenance of local waterways
Public workshops on flood risk reduction
The highlight of the Floodplain Management Plan is the Flood Assistance Rebate Program. The program offers a 25% rebate to owners of single-family, owner-occupied residences for approved flood control projects.
Flood Assistance Rebate Program
For homeowners in South Holland, the Flood Assistance Rebate Program is a powerful incentive to be proactive about flooding and flood mitigation. A wide variety of projects are eligible for rebates.
The process of qualifying for a rebate is simple: The South Holland Flood Assistance Coordinator pre-approves projects through an in-home meeting with the homeowner to review two written estimates for the project. The village maintains a list of registered contractors qualified to do the work. Upon completion of the project, a code inspection ensures compliance. Finally, to receive the 25% rebate, the homeowner provides a paid receipt to the Planning, Development and Code Enforcement Department.
The most common types of flood control projects South Holland homeowners have undertaken include preventive maintenance to keep water out of residences. Foundation repairs and drain-tile systems are just two examples of such projects.
A brochure for the Flood Assistance Rebate Program lists the following types of projects that are eligible for rebates:
Addition of downspouts
Diversion of downspout water
Disconnection of sump pumps and downspouts from sanitary sewers
To maximize the impact of these projects, officials also recommend property owners allow some portion of their properties to become vegetated areas, also known as swales, that absorb more rainwater and slow the rate of runoff.
Sewer Backup Projects
In 2016, South Holland expanded its rebate program to help homeowners tackle the growing problem of basement sewer backups. These backups are expensive headaches that can happen during heavy rains that may not result in overland flooding.
Residents can now apply for a rebate that will cover half the cost (up to $5,000) of systems designed to prevent backed-up sewers. These systems may consist of overhead sewers that pump sewage above the flood level before draining into the villages sewer lines. Modern, improved backflow valves are another method for protecting against sewer backups during heavy rain. Backflow valves prevent water from moving backwards in a line and entering basements through drains.
What successes have been reported
South Holland is a great lesson in how smaller communities can apply innovative solutions to solve big problems. In an email to The Pew Charitable Trusts, South Holland’s flood assistance coordinator Brian Smith reported that nearly $3 million in flood prevention projects had been undertaken by residents since the inception of the rebate program. More than 1,100 of the village’s 8,200 households have used rebates for projects on their land.
The result of this substantial re-investment of taxpayer dollars is a community better protected against regular flooding. Homeowners, meanwhile, can enjoy discounts on insurance policies and improved property values.