Flooding: 100-Year Pump v. 10-Year Pail?


Flooding – and the effect it has on private property values and on the City treasury – is the most significant problem Park Ridge faces.  Even people who can put up with air plane noise are far less tolerant of several inches to several feet of fetid water appearing all too regularly in their basements.

So we direct your attention to an article in this week’s Park Ridge Journal about the flooding problem and its remediation (“Flood Fixes Under Review,” September 25).  And a big Watchdog bark-out goes the Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) for making – at the City Council’s September 9 Committee of the Whole meeting – essential points about the inadequacy of the “10-year flood” remediation with which the City is currently fiddling.

As reported in the Journal article, back in May 2012, the Council approved spending over $800,000 from the City’s sewer fund on a flooding feasibility study by the City’s newest BFF consultant, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd.  But as we understand it, the focus of this feasibility study is a plan to improve the sewer system to better hand 10-year floods.

Resident Bill Montgomery, from the Northwest Park area, noted that despite having overhead sewers and a sump pump, his house floods because the main City sewer line serving his house and others on his block is inadequate to handle the several 100-year floods we’ve had in the past five years.

Unfortunately, Mazzuca’s and Montgomery’s incisive observations were met with bureaucratese from Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim, who defended the 10-year storm focus because that’s the “industry standard” – without apparently appreciating the absurdity of that statement in light of the flooding we’ve actually experienced.  And he analogized building a sewer system for 100-year floods to building a 300-seat restaurant “for the one time you have a wedding.”

Sorry, Wayne, but we’ve had at least four “weddings” in the past five years.  And if one gives any credence whatsoever to the climate change theory, a continuing or increasing number of “weddings” seems more of a certainty than a likelihood.  Which means you should probably buy yourself a tux rather than keep relying on rentals.

Mazzuca’s comment that “[i]f we were to continue with the Burke [10-year flood] plan, we’re still not solving the capacity problem” – and Montgomery’s observation that “[t]he plan for a 10-year flood, a 10-year rain is just shortsighted” – sound spot-on to us.

The bottom line is that EVERYBODY knows, or reasonably should know through nothing more than simple observation and the application of common sense, that expecting any significant flooding relief from a 10-year flood plan is just a couple of degrees north of “foolish”…and heading towards “delusional.”  Throwing time, effort and boxcars of cash at such a plan, therefore, would appear to be stupid and wasteful – unless that 10-year plan comes with a much-needed system-wide sewer evaluation to determine the extent and degree our existing sewer system has been neglected and in need of basic repairs or replacement.

We don’t know how much of the $800,000 appropriated for the Burke study has been spent already, but to the extent there’s any left un-spent we strongly suggest the Mayor and City Council put the brakes on before it’s all gone.  Nobody, including the victims of chronic flooding and the taxpayers as a whole, will be properly served by finding out at the next big flood control presentation on November 11 that we’ve spent $800,000 on what amounts to a plastic beach pail when a 20,000 gallon-per-hour pump is needed.

Whether we can afford the pump is a legitimate question, but do we really want to waste millions on the pail?

To read or post comments, click on title.

13 comments so far

I agree with you, PW. But how many people with flood problems don’t care how much the City spends fighting it, no matter how ineffective, so long as it gives them hope of any relief? Its like the people with airplane noise problems who want to see the City spend money on lawyers and lawsuits no matter how slim the chance of winning because a million dollars or more might only push their property’s taxes up $10 or $20 a year.

From what I have read about the 10-year flood relief, it does not sound like it is worth doing becasue nobody (not Burke, not Zingsheim, not Mitchell, not the mayor or aldermen) are saying it will substantially relieve the flooding we have experienced. So why spend millions? Or why not suck it up and spend more to do it right, assuming “more” is not an astronomical number and can be bonded over 20 years or so?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s a discussion that should be held sooner rather than later.


Had a question for you. I’ve been thinking about this topic since the NFL settled their lawsuit with the retired players surrounding concussions.

Do you think there is an risk that this might someday cascade down to the high school level, leaving D207 with liability?

I’m not an attorney so perhaps this is a basic question, with nothing to worry about as a taxpayer, but I did see what I’ve pasted below, an it got me to wondering if high schools could be far behind and if D207 or IHSA could be sued successfully.

Sorry to comment here. I’m guessing/hoping you won’t publish because it’s completely off point, but i wasn’t sure how to ask you. My email is added.



Future Insurance Coverage Cases and Potential Impact on Insurers

Although these insurance coverage actions are currently limited to former professional football players, there may be future insurance coverage cases involving college football, high school football, or other contact sports. For example, on September 3, 2013, three former college football players filed a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the Eastern District of Tennessee on behalf of a class of plaintiffs defined as “All former NCAA football players residing in the United States, who did not go on to play professional football in the National Football League.” Walker v. NCAA, E.D. Tenn., No. 1:13-cv-00293 (filed 9/3/13). The plaintiffs allege that the NCAA failed to educate football players of the long-term, life-altering risks of head impacts, and did not establish known protocols to prevent, mitigate, monitor, diagnose, and treat brain injuries. Plaintiffs seek medical monitoring and their costs and attorney fees for the lawsuit. There is currently another class action against the NCAA pending in the Northern District of Illinois. Arrington v. NCAA, N.D. Ill., No. 1:11-cv-06356 (filed 9/12/11).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Interesting question, but above our pay-grade – other than to suggest that for D-207 some aspect of governmental immunity might come into play.

The mistake all along by some is to refer to this as flood relief or remediation. At best, it will be flood mitigation. The cost benefit question that needs to answered is what size flood should the sewers be sized to carry? The costs go up significantly as you design for higher rainfall amounts. Since we live in the flat part of the world and water flows downhill, the ability for the pipes to carry the water away is limited by the outfall elevation (i.e. you have to work backwards from the lowest point where the water exits the system to the street elevations where the water is collected). Should the system be able to handle the 10, 20, 25, 50, 100 or some other year rainfall? Regardless of the year/rainfall amount you chose there will always be a rain event that exceeds the carrying capacity of the sewers. Again, since we choose to live on flat land the capacity of the sewers is reached more quickly than a sloped sewer. As an engineer, I can assure you that the Park Ridge residents can’t possibly come up with enough funds (tax dollars) to be able to afford a sewer system designed for a 50 or 100 year rain event an quite possibly a 20 year rainfall. Even if we could we will have some flooding at the 105 year rainfall event or the 55 or 25 year rainfall. You can talk all you want about “flood relief”, but we will ALWAYS have flooding because of where we live and limited resources. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but basic hydraulics trump available resources. So when you go ahead and spend millions, if not tens of millions, be prepared for the citizens to ask why did we spend so much money and still flood? I fear we are truly being fooled into chasing the impossible. Does it make sense to spend tens of millions to have one less flood every 10 or 20 years? I think many are on a fools errand.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s the $64 million (or more?) question.

Unfortunately, as best as we can tell the City has no firm grasp of the current condition and capacity of its entire sewer system – including the age of each sewer section, the actual diameter of each section, the current structural condition of each section, its last inspection date, its most recent repair/replacement, etc. So, frankly, we can’t imagine that you actually have any more useful information than the City on which to base your conclusions that the taxpayers “can’t possibly come up with enough funds…[to address] a 50 or 100 year rain event…or the 55 or 25 year rainfall.”

But if we’re misjudging you, please let us know ASAP things like: what the City system’s current capacity and condition are; how many miles and what diameter of additional or replacement sewers would have to be added to handle a 25, 50, 55 or 100 year rainfall; and how much each such benchmark improvement would cost.

Based on a quick internet search, I see where other cities design their storm water systems for anywhere from a 2 year rain event to a 20 year rain event. I would find it hard to believe Park Ridge originally designed its system for more than a 25 year rain event. Also, based on observing flooding in my 20+ years of living in PR, my above assumption seems to be at the high end. As such I can confidently say our system, even if in perfect condition, can’t possibly handle a 30 year rain event. I can also say with a high degree of confidence, the citizens can’t afford to replace what we have for a 50 year rain event. As such we get back to my original post where I stated we will ALWAYS flood because of limited resources? Also, is the added tens of millions of dollars spent for once less time of having standing water in some streets and some back yards flooded and basements wet worth it? I say again we are only fooling everybody!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sorry, Slick, but we don’t believe you can “confidently” say ANYTHING of technical value on this point…or at least not anything that ANYBODY should reasonably rely on. And thanks to your anonymity, even your claim of being an engineer and having lived here for 20+ years is unprovable and, therefore, worthless.

You very well might be right, but so might anybody else who might now write in claiming to be an engineer and having lived here for 20+ years.

All excellent questions you’ve been trying to get the City to answer as long as you’ve been doing this blog. The Park District knows the location and condition of every tree on its property; what does the City know about its responsibilities? Don’t ask.
Four weddings, indeed. I’d like “and a funeral” for biz as usual by City Hall.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks, but it seems so obvious to us that it’s definitely annoying to have to keep pointing out how foolish it is to plot a course for somewhere else when you don’t know where you are.

Interesting how few comments you’ve gotten on this topic when many millions in tax dollars and personal goods and chattel are at stake with flooding. If this were a few grand for charity there would be no end of hysterical chest-beating on the topic, pro and con. I guess it’s true that people can’t really metabolize the big numbers so obsess about the smaller ones — and call it principle.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Principle” is easier to understand on patently black-white issues, like throwing arbitrary amounts of tax dollars at other governmental bodies and private corporations who are not accountable to the taxpayers.

Most average citizens don’t know what to think about the flooding issue because they don’t know whom to believe (if anyone) and what to believe (if anything) about what can be achieved, and at what cost. Nobody likes flooding, but some folks don’t care what it costs to battle it irrespective of the cost/benefit results – just like the anti-O’Hare folks will spare no expense in waging that war irrespective of the odds of winning.

Dog, your comments are right on about people who don’t care how much money is spent on things they want because they think they are getting more out of it than they are paying for it.

And nowhere is that more obvious than at D-64 and D-207, where parents, teachers and administrators will gladly raise the cost per pupil by $300 because they are only paying $50 of additional taxes while the vast majority of that cost is being paid by taxpayers who get no immediate benefit from it because they have no kids in the schools.

Antoher example are the flood victims who want the taxpayers to pay for their private flood control systems, and those community groups, etc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, there are a number of people out there who seem to be motivated primarily by getting more out of government than they pay into it. And too many people in government – starting with the bureaucrats – are more than happy to give it to them because they, too, get more out of government than they pay into it.

Nice post dog. The proposed solutions are nothing more than bandaids and as previously stated something that will make some residents feel good (or keep them quiet for now). The reality is this will actually have very little impact on flood prevention or mitigaion in PR. The issues of flooding and for that matter electrical power reliability will require far greater investments to resolve these problems than the few millions the city is spending here and there. Mazzuca gets it, but not sure the other members of the council do(including the mayor). Is it because they’re so deep into this they can’t alter their position based on how they’ve voted previously?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s not mix apples and oranges: electrical power is ComEd, regulated by the incompetent and corrupt State of Illinois government. Park Ridge effectively has no control over ComEd, so about all it can do is annoy ComEd (the “squeaky wheel” strategy) and trim trees to lessen the likelihood that branches and limbs fall on power lines.

Flooding is more within Park Ridge’s control, but our sewer infrastructure has been neglected for years, if not decades – so we don’t really know how much of the problem can be attributed to undersized/collapsed/obstructed sewers, if anything. But if the flood remediation program currently being undertaken is only going to deal with 10-year rains, somebody at City Hall should be taking a good hard look at the cost-benefit of that project rather than just doing something because it might be slightly better than just standing there.

Can anybody tell us when was the last “10-year rain” and provide details of whatever flooding was experienced? Because, frankly, we can’t think of one in particular, which suggests the City’s infrastructure – in whatever shape it’s in – already is capable of handling that kind of rain.

Wow. Love the smack down of the engineer’s comments at 1:14. You’re right, anonymity can only lead to the conclusion that someone is lying. Tell me, oh arbiter of all that is truthful, what is your name, address (so we can check property tax records to confirm your length of residency) and occupation (please provide a full C.V.). Goose meet the gander.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You first, gander.

I think flooding is the single worst part of living in PR, and has the worst effect on our property values. But like you, PW, I can’t remember the last “10 year rain” or whether it actually flooded anything. So why are we spending all this money again?

How many residences and businesses are there in Park Ridge? And how many of each flood when we get a 10,20 or 50 year rain? Basic question that ought to be answered before we move ahead with spending $$$,$$$,$$$ on flood control/remediation .

live here 24 years first 18 years never flood last 6 flood at least 6 times something is wrong with sewer system & needs to be fixed. I’ve called village many times but nothing done. but if it was their home you’d see action

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not just “something” but a LOT of things are wrong – which is why estimates for flood remediation for less than 20% of Park Ridge is over $100 million. And the mayor himself has flooded several times in the last several years, so your suspicions are unfounded.

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