MWRD, community representatives work to eliminate flooded basements, sanitary sewer overflows into area streams

The MWRD and its community partners are working together to reduce basement back-ups and sanitary sewer overflows.


The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) and its community partners are working together to reduce basement back-ups and sanitary sewer overflows.

Even before the Illinois General Assembly granted the MWRD stormwater authority for Cook County in 2004, the agency has been working to address problems associated with weakening sewer systems in separated sewer communities. These communities have one pipe designated for stormwater and another pipe for sewage; this differs from combined sewer communities where both flow into one pipe. The predominant factors contributing to flooding in separated sewer communities is infiltration and inflow of stormwater into the sanitary sewers, overwhelming the sewer and causing “back-ups.”

Infiltration pertains to groundwater entering a sanitary sewer system though defective pipes, pipe joints, pipe connections and manhole walls as well as illegally connected perforated pipes, drain tiles and under-drains. Inflow refers to stormwater entering sanitary sewer systems though illegally connected roof downspouts, yard and area drains, footing/foundation drains, cooling-water discharges, drains from springs and swampy areas, leaking manhole frames and covers, and cross connections of storm and sanitary sewers. However, disconnecting these illegal connections can be expensive.

Because minimizing infiltration and inflow is key to efficient sewage conveyance in both the public arena and in private dwellings, corrective work in both realms is necessary. To help better understand how to assist communities with separate sanitary sewer systems, the MWRD convened an Advisory Technical Panel to seek input for the creation of a new monitoring program. The panel completed its work in July, and the results were conveyed to the MWRD Board of Commissioners in a special session held last month.

The goal of MWRD’s Sanitary Sewer Rehabilitation Program is to prevent both infiltration and inflow in the public realm and in private homes.  From November 2011 through July 2012, MWRD staff, local public works officials and engineers met to discuss ways in which problems could be addressed in light of new federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permitting requirements, a tool used to enforce the Clean Water Act by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States.

“Having the Advisory Technical Panel is a great starting point for the Board to consider where we need to go from here,” said Commissioner Debra Shore, chairman of the Board’s Stormwater Management committee. “We appreciate all of the time the community representatives have taken to engage in thoughtful discussion with our engineers.”

While local governments are challenged to maximize funding opportunities to prevent stormwater from entering sanitary sewers in the public right-of-way, individual homeowners face similar challenges. To eliminate sources of stormwater from entering sanitary sewers in private dwellings requires the disconnection of downspouts, foundation sump pumps, and driveway drain improvements on private property.

The MWRD Board will take the panel’s report under advisement as it works to devise reasonable solutions while educating homeowners and local leaders about ways to reduce the infiltration and inflow problem.

Members of the panel included:

  • Janet Pellegrini, Environmental Scientist, US EPA Region V
  • John Wiemhoff, Senior Environmental Engineer US EPA Region V
  • Jay Patel, Illinois EPA
  • Sean Dorsey, Director of Public Works, Village of Mount Prospect
  • Paul Kendzior, Village Engineer, Village of Northbrook
  • Steve Saunders, Director of  Public Works and Village Engineer, Village of Winnetka
  • Fred Vogt, Director of Public Works, City of Rolling Meadows
  • Christopher King, Robinson Engineering
  • Dale Schepers, Director of Public Works, Village of Tinley Park
  • Troy Ishler, Director, Public Works, City of Oak Forest 
  • Patrick McAneney, Director, Public Works, Village of Glenwood
  • David Weakley, Commissioner of Public Works, City of Palos Hills
  • Bill Meyer, Public Works Department (Sewers), Village of Oak Lawn
  • Mark Emory, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Rosemont, IL 60018
  • James Goumas, Hancock Engineering, Westchester
  • Joseph Pisano, Director of Public Works, Village of Hillside
  • Ed Santen, Superintendent of Public Works, Village of Indian Head Park
  • Ross Dring, Kimberly Heights Sanitary Dist., Tinley Park
  • Mark Toll, Elk Grove Township, Daniel Creaney Company, Northbrook
  • Christopher J. Breakey, South Lyons Township Sanitary Dist., Countryside
  • Michael A. Smyth, Senior Manager, Field Services, Illinois American Water Company, Woodridge
  • Michael D. Piraino, PirTano Construction Company, Inc., Addison
  • Craig Brunner, P.E., Donohue & Associates, Inc., Chicago
  • Alan J. Hollenbeck, P.E., RJN Group, 200 West Front Street, Wheaton
  • Allan Berkner, P.E., Sewer System Evaluations, Inc., Chicago


More information about efforts to reduce flooding can be found at www.mwrd.org.

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