VILLA PARK – On a sunny Monday morning, Villa Park’s water treatment facility was quiet and mostly empty as Bill Johnson shined his flashlight into the tanks.
The Wet Weather Flow Treatment Facility still was dry when Johnson, the center’s lead operator, pointed out key components of the tanks. But just a few weeks ago, when much of the village was underwater, public works employees were wading through deep trouble of their own.
During the April 18 storms that brought more than 9 inches of rain to Villa Park, infrastructure designed to prevent flooding couldn’t keep up. Like much of town, a portion of the treatment facility also reached its limits.
“My heart goes out to the people who got their basements flooded,” Johnson said. “We took in as much as we could. Everything was maxed out.”
The Wet Weather Flow Treatment Facility, designed to manage stormwater that comes into the village, was built in 1987 on Monterey Avenue between the Prairie Path and Fairfield Avenue. On a normal day, Villa Park’s sanitary and other waters are moved out of the village and into the Salt Creek Sanitary District, but when the sewers fill with rain water, they’re directed to the Wet Weather Flow Treatment facility.
“It’s used during rain events,” said Rick Cermak, the village’s wastewater superintendent. “We have a computer system that calls us. It senses a level on the sewer system and alerts us.”
Whoever is on call comes to the facility to turn everything on, and it begins taking in water. Two people stay at the site to monitor the system and make sure it’s functioning properly, Cermak said.
When the facility is fully operational, it can move between 23 to 25 million gallons of water a day, Johnson said.
The water arrives through two feeds. There is combined water – a mix of rain water and water coming from people’s homes – and sanitary water. The types remain separate as they run through a series of tanks and pumps for treatment before being released into Salt Creek.
During a normal rainfall, the water might sit in the facility for several hours, but a storm like the one that hit last month necessitates a quick passage of water through the site.
Staff was notified to turn on the system April 17, and it remained operating until April 22, Johnson said. He estimates the plant moved about 60 million gallons of water during that time frame.
“A lot of people are wondering, ‘Why are we still flooding?’” he said. “It’s not a magic reservoir that just opens up and takes in unlimited water.”
The storm is one Johnson describes as an “act of God” – a case of too much water in too short a time. Public works employees ended up flooding the facility several inches because the water just couldn’t get pushed out quickly enough.
Teams worked around the clock to keep the facility operating. And the power stayed on.
The Wet Weather Flow Treatment Facility doesn’t have a generator, and neither does the sanitary district. If the power had gone out, Johnson said, facility managers couldn’t do anything more than put in a call to Commonwealth Edison and wait for relief.
“Those pumps never turned off,” he said. “You get to the point where that’s all you can do.”