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Elmhurst City Council approves rear yard drain program extension

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 10:29 a.m. CDT

ELMHURST – The City Council approved a Public Works and Building Committee report recommending Elmhurst continue its current storm sewer extension program with a 13 to 1 vote.

"It was good policy then; I still believe it's a good policy/program now," said Fifth Ward Alderman Chris Healy, also the committee's vice chairman.

The program allows Down Under Construction of St. Charles to install drains at the request of residents in their backyards to alleviate water problems. Under the program residents may also connect sump pump discharge pipes and roof drains to the city storm sewer. The city shares 50 percent of the project cost with homeowners up to $1,000. The city voted to extend the program for a single year.

"Rear yard drains will have a certain place as we move forward as a community," said Sixth Ward Alderman and Public Works and Building Committee Chairman Jim Kennedy.

According to the committee's report, the program has provided for 1000 drains since 1991. Kennedy told the council that following the 1987 floods, the city required residents to disconnect their sump pumps from the sanitary sewer system. Projecting water from their sump pumps in their yards often caused flooding, so the city created the drain program to eliminate that problem.

He also said that as they explore more green options to water control, such as rain gardens or mandating water storage requirements for new construction, rear yard drains will help direct the water collecting on residential property.

"It sort of defies logic to me that we built something that might actually exacerbate someone's problem," said First Ward Alderman and committee member Diane Gutenkauf, the council's only dissenting voice.

She asked why the council would continue with a plan that can overburden the city's storm sewer system during severe storms. Other aldermen recognized that during severe storms like the one that caused the April flood, rear yard drains can back up, just like the storm sewers. In such cases, instead of directing water away from a resident's property, water pours out of the drain from the overburdened sewer system.

"I'm entirely sympathetic to those folks who flood frequently and very hard during those those 1 percent storms ... but I don't believe that we can set policy that will cause other people to flood in smaller storms," said Fourth Ward Alderman Kevin York.

He explained that during average or smaller storms the rear yard drains minimize the amount of water that can collect on low-lying or flood-prone properties. Residents who choose to install the rear yard drains must weigh the benefits of preventing flooding during smaller storms over the risks of their yard drains projecting excess water into their yards during severe storms.

Gutenkauf stood her ground, insisting the council needs to change the way Elmhurst alleviates flooding without overburdening the storm sewer system.

"We're going to have to change our attitude about water, about what's acceptable and about how long we expect to see it," she said.

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