Village of Winnetka
Seemingly more and more, when it rains in Winnetka, it pours. And, more and more, when it pours, Winnetka floods. Stormwater runoff spills over every property, every home and institution in Winnetka and often finds its way into residents’ window wells, basements, and homes. The effects of flooding ripple throughout the entire community. Flooding impacts insurance rates, home values, public safety, quality of life and, increasingly, Winnetka’s reputation as an ideal place to live and raise a family.
The July 2011 flooding impacted more than 1,000 Winnetka homes causing an estimated $7.6 million in uninsured damages alone, likely many times more in total damages.
The Village continues to explore how it can deliver relief from the heaviest storms in a way that is effective, environmentally sensitive, and affordable.
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There are several factors that contribute to Winnetka’s flooding problem. Some of it has to do with varying elevations throughout the community. For example, much of the low-lying areas west of downtown Winnetka were marshland before it was reclaimed in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Therefore, those areas are more prone to flash flooding.
Seemingly, we have experienced heavier rainstorms in recent years. For example, the July 2011 storm that caused significant flooding dumped 6.5 inches of water in Winnetka in just 2.5 hours. The more heavy storms that occur, the more likely it is that there will be flooding.
And finally, Winnetka’s aging infrastructure simply wasn’t designed to effectively handle these more frequent, major storms. That’s why addressing this problem requires investment in a solution that will deliver relief over the long term.
Despite the fact that many neighboring communities do not experience the scale of flooding that Winnetka does, they are also investing in stormwater management programs. Based on capital plans and financing, many other North Shore Communities are investing in new or improved infrastructure.
Clearly, addressing pervasive structural flooding in Winnetka is the Village’s top infrastructure priority. The Village has been working in recent years to deliver relief to homeowners that will be effective, affordable, and sensitive to the environment. There has been progress on several fronts:
The Village has already implemented several measures to alleviate flooding in some areas. However, identifying the solution that will deliver relief to those impacted the most by structural flooding is underway.
Over the last 15 months, the Village was working with an engineering firm to evaluate the feasibility of a stormwater tunnel that would would collect stormwater and treat it before depositing it into Lake Michigan. That option, however, has been tabled by the Village council due to rising cost estimates.
Now, the Village is embarking on an effort to evaluate non-tunneling options that may incorporate drainage basins on the west side of town. That evaluation will include a community engagement process where engineers will seek community input on potential solutions.
To what extent is the Village considering the project’s impact on the environment?
Protecting homes from flooding while also protecting the environment is possible through planning, partnerships, and stewardship. The Village understands that its natural resources, namely Lake Michigan, the Skokie Lagoons, and the Skokie River are a major asset. They provide habitat to diverse wildlife and present recreational and educational opportunities for Winnetka residents. In identifying a solution to flooding, protecting these assets is paramount.
But we also know based on our research that green measures alone will not deliver the level of protection that residents desire. Therefore, it is likely that the eventual solution will involve a combination of green and gray infrastructure.
Winnetka has taken major steps forward to be sensitive to the environment in everything it does. The Village considers stewardship of the Village’s natural water resources a core value. Residents should expect that commitment to continue as progress toward a solution is made.
Because the Village has not fully identified the entire solution that is feasible from environmental, cost, and construction standpoints, it is difficult to provide residents with a price tag that covers all the improvements.
However, the Village anticipates that current and future improvements will be paid for primarily via the Stormwater Utility Fee, which every property owner in Winnetka pays. Modern, effective stormwater infrastructure is an asset that benefits the entire community because it minimizes structural and surface flooding.
As it has done in the past, the Village strongly encourages homeowners and other stakeholders to get involved. Visit this website to stay apprised of our progress. Attend Village Council Meetings where the Stormwater Management Plan items are being discussed.
The most current information and full repository of stormwater history is available on this website. Up-to-date project activity is provided on the Village’s Construction Projects (link). Residents may also find it helpful to review Council Agenda Packets or watch meeting webcasts.
Questions about stormwater projects and improvements can be submitted to Village Council and staff by emailing email@example.com.
Residents may also find it helpful to register to receive the Village’s weekly e-newsletter (E-Winnetka), which frequently contains summaries of recent Council actions on stormwater improvement projects. Registration for E-Winnetka is available at www.villageofwinnetka.org by clicking the word “subscribe” in the page footer. On that same Subscription page, you may also register for Stormwater specific E-Alerts-- which will generate an email to you each time a stormwater news item is posted by the Village.
Residents can take several steps to reduce or eliminate flooding. Some of those steps include:
Village September 2012 Homeowner Presentation
Using rain barrels, bioswales and rain gardens can certainly reduce the amount of water that can potentially enter your home. However, these measures should not be considered as guaranteed solutions to prevent flooding. For example, Village staff has evaluated a “typical” single family home, with about 1,800 square feet of roofed area with 440 square-foot detached garage. On such a property, it would take about 25 rain barrels to capture the runoff from a 1-inch rain.
Clearly, such improvements have benefits and should be considered as a means of addressing individual property flooding; however, they are not the sole answer to the type of flooding that caused such widespread and devastating damage in 2008 and again in 2011.
First, you should safeguard your possessions. It is important to keep irreplaceable items out of the basement. It is also recommended you keep an inventory of your household and possessions; this is of great use in the event of a flood and for insurance reporting purposes. Finally, every home should have an emergency plan that is communicated to all household members. Prepare a safety kit (flashlights, radio, batteries, water, and blankets), develop an evacuation route and gathering point, and know who will be responsible for ensuring your pets are cared for in a flood.
Wet debris should be removed as soon as possible, and Bleach or Pine-sol work best to clean and prevent mold.
Depending on the severity of a flooding event, the Village may conduct special debris pick-ups following a flood. Contact the Village’s Public Works Department at 847-716-3568 to learn more.
It is especially important to take thorough documentation, including photographs, of any flooding on your property and surrounding properties if you plan to make a flood insurance claim.
Flood clean-up on your property does not require a special permit, but if your recovery involves any structural repair or changes, it is a good idea to contact the Community Development Department at 847-716-3576 to learn if a permit is necessary. Obtaining a permit will help protect you and ensure that restoration work to your home is performed properly.
The Village requires that all new downspouts splash at grade rather than tie into the storm sewer system for two reasons. First, it allows the storm water to pass over vegetated areas prior to entering the storm sewer system, allowing some pollutants to be filtered out into the vegetation. Second, by requiring the discharge to flow overland prior to entering the storm system, the delay in the surface runoff from entering the sewer system helps equalize the system, minimizing peaks and surcharging in the storm sewer.
Downspouts will only be permitted to tie into the storm sewer system if not doing so would create an adverse drainage condition for the adjacent properties. Downspouts must not be directed to drain toward or onto adjacent properties (this includes all existing downspouts, as well).
Storm sewer sump pumps are permitted to connect to the storm sewer system because the sump pump discharge at grade can cause severe erosion and drainage problems. However, you must ensure that the storm sump pump connects to the storm sewer and not the sanitary sewer.
Standing or ponding water in a yard means that there is an existing low lying area that is not drained.
This problem can be solved in a few ways. If the property has adequate pitch from the area in question toward a public right-of-way or drainage structure, then a drainage swale can be constructed to convey the storm water to an appropriate point of discharge.
A second method would be to construct a storm inlet at the low lying area and then connect it to either the property’s existing storm sewer service or, if there is not an existing storm service to the home, a new service can be constructed. Filling in the low lying area and displacing the water onto adjacent properties is not a permitted solution.
The Village of Winnetka has changed the way we pay for the cost of owning, maintaining and improving the stormwater management system. Instead of property tax revenues, the Village uses a stormwater fee based on the property’s impact to the stormwater system. A stormwater utility system is designed to:
Many communities in the United States have opted for a stormwater utility to fund their stormwater programs. Since every property generates runoff and benefits from the infrastructure in place, the utility model represents an equitable method to collect revenue from those who place a demand on the stormwater management system. Communities in Illinois that have adopted stormwater utilities that are similar in design to the utility proposed for the Village include Aurora, Bloomington, Champaign, Downers Grove, East Moline, Freeport, Highland Park, Moline, Morton, Normal, Northbrook, O’Fallon, Orland park, Rantoul, Rock Island, Rolling Meadows, Richton Park, Tinley Park, and Urbana.
A stormwater fee is appropriate for the Village for a number of reasons. A stormwater fee is:
The stormwater fees fund all aspects of the Village stormwater system including current operating and maintenance expenditures (currently funded via property taxes) and the anticipated debt service associated with funding of the Tunnel project and connecting neighborhood projects. It should be noted that the Village has also funded some capital improvements from General Fund reserves, but the reserves will not be repaid by the stormwater fees.
The fees are based on the amount of impervious surface located on each parcel in the Village. The fees are calculated based on the number of Equivalent Runoff Units (ERU). One ERU is 3,400 square feet of impervious area – the average amount of impervious area located on single family residential properties in the Village. Fees are then calculated based on the number of ERUs on the individual parcel rounded to the tenth of an ERU. Parcels without impervious surface or with impervious area less than 170 square feet are not charged a stormwater fee.
An impervious surface is an area within a parcel which prevents or significantly impedes the infiltration of stormwater into the soil. Common impervious areas include, but are not limited to, building rooftops; parking lots; driveways (including paving, concrete, stone, gravel and dirt); paved walkways; pools; patios; tennis and basketball courts; and other similar non-porous areas.
Impervious area has been determined to be the single most significant factor influencing the volume and rate of runoff generated on a property. The use of impervious area is the industry standard approach to developing stormwater fees.
Semi-pervious areas gravel, dirt or flagstone walkways that are not compact by vehicular traffic are not considered impervious areas.
The impervious area for each parcel in the Village was determined using high resolution aerial photography (photos were taken Spring of 2014) and Geographical Information System (GIS) measurements. The information was also cross-referenced with existing Cook County property tax records.
The annual stormwater fee per ERU is $262.
All parcels within the Village of Winnetka are subject to the stormwater fees.
The stormwater utility became effective on July 1, 2014.
All bills for the stormwater utility fee are billed on a common utility bill and collected along with the Village water utility charges.
Since all parcels in the Village are subject to the fees, there is a bill for each parcel in the Village. Generally speaking, stormwater bills are sent to existing water bill customers. For those parcels that do not have water service, the bills are sent to the owner of record.
The stormwater fee is billed just with the current water bill for properties such as condominiums. The condominium association will be responsible for paying the stormwater bill and collecting the necessary funds from the individual condominium owners.
Once stormwater bills have been sent out and received a property owner can file an official appeal. A property owner will be able to appeal their stormwater bill only for the following reasons:
Yes, a property owner may have the opportunity to apply for stormwater fee credits.
A stormwater fee credit is an on-going reduction in the amount of the stormwater fees on a property in recognition of onsite stormwater management or property characteristics. The Village Council has adopted a stormwater credit program that will allow property owners to apply for three types of credits. The types include:
While the stormwater program is in place to manage the effects of runoff carried by rainwater, the fee is in no way related to the amount of rain that falls. Users are charged a fee for runoff discharged from their property to the Village’s stormwater management system, not the amount of rain falling on their property. Property owners control the level of development (impervious area) on their properties, which directly impacts the runoff characteristics of their site.
If you own property with impervious area such as rooftops, sidewalks, driveways, etc., you contribute to stormwater runoff. While you may not have drainage problems on your particular property, runoff generated from your property may be contributing to problems elsewhere in the Village. The approach being taken through the stormwater utility recognizes that everyone contributes to the runoff problem and everyone will share in the results of the program (improved water quality, reduce flooding, unimpaired access to roads, etc.).
The Village’s stormwater conveyance system includes much more than storm drains. Ditches, curbs, gutters, culverts and open stream channels all make up the Village-wide drainage system that conveys stormwater runoff away from structures and sites in a manner that minimizes the potential for flooding and erosion to properties. The Village is responsible for maintaining the entire manmade and natural public conveyance system. Most private road stormwater systems discharge to the Village's system.
The stormwater utility fee is not a tax. It is a fee generated to maintain the stormwater utility system and necessary capital improvements. The stormwater utility is a user-fee, much like the fee that you pay for your water utility or sewer service. Users of these services are charged based on the demand they place on the system. The stormwater that flows off your property places demand on a vast system of infrastructure which is costly to operate, maintain and improve. Stormwater must be channeled through a system of pipes and other devices before it can be safely discharged into local rivers, streams and lakes. A property’s value does not affect runoff, so property taxes are not the most equitable way to pay for stormwater services. While a high-rise building and a shopping mall may have similar property values and similar taxes, the shopping mall produces more runoff due to more rooftops and more parking. So, the fee system equitably will ensure that the customer pays only for the runoff that they produce.
Properties within the Village that are tax-exempt such as Village properties, schools and places of worship are assessed stormwater fees. Just as the Village currently charges all of these properties for the use of the Village owned and maintained utilities including water, sewer and electric, these properties must contribute to the management of the Village stormwater utility. Each tax-exempt parcel owner has the opportunity to decide how they fund these costs.
The Village Council discussed location-based and uniform approaches to the stormwater utility fee structure, but ultimately agreed to employ a uniform fee approach. This was also the approach recommended by MFSG, as it assumes all parcels pay the same stormwater fee per ERU, regardless of location in the Village. Though property owners ultimately have different bill amounts, the basis of the fee is consistent for all.
In September 2012, the Village hired Municipal Financial Services Group (MFSG) to undertake a feasibility study of various financing methods for proposed stormwater improvements, including evaluation of a Stormwater Utility. As part of this study, MFSG explored various means of funding capital and operational improvements, looked at possible rate structures, and identified advantages and disadvantages of funding options. MFSG completed their study and submitted their final report, recommending the implementation of a stormwater utility to finance 100% of improvements, to the Village Council, in May, 2013.
The study by MFSG evaluated potential funding mechanisms available to Winnetka to fund its stormwater improvements. In other communities, stormwater operations and capital are frequently funded by General Fund revenues (property taxes and reserves), a stormwater fee, or a combination of these sources. MFSG’s study focused on the following elements of stormwater financing: 1) funding mechanisms; 2) level of service; 3) rate and fee analysis; 4) considerations for implementation. Though funding improvements through a combination of a fee and property taxes was discussed, ultimately the Council preferred the transparency and reduced complexity of a 100% stormwater fee.
Separating the cost of stormwater improvements from the general tax levy and from the General Fund is becoming an increasingly common approach, because the practice creates an equitable system in which property owners pay based on their corresponding stormwater impact. Further, a utility fosters accountability, as fees are driven by the level of service and system needs and accounted for in a separate enterprise fund. Finally, the utility helps the Village proactively manage the stormwater management system and plan for long-term needs with a dependable revenue stream.
After consideration of the three main types of rate bases employed by various utilities, the Village determined to use “impervious surface” as the rate base for Winnetka’s stormwater fee. Impervious surface is defined as any surface that does not allow for the penetration of water, such as driveways, roofs, and sidewalks, and it directly correlates with the amount of stormwater runoff a property generates, and therefore a property owner’s impact on the stormwater system. The Village has data on the actual impervious area for each parcel within Winnetka, and establishing fees based on impervious area is generally accepted as an industry best practice.
After reaching a second Review Point in the Willow Road Stormwater Tunnel and Area Drainage Improvements (STADI) Project in the spring of 2015, cost estimates continued to rise for the large-diameter stormwater tunnel proposed to meet the Village’s flood reduction and protection goals. After a third-party engineering and cost review, in September 2015, the Village Council suspended further work on the STADI project. The following month, the Council engaged a new engineering firm to complete a stormwater management evaluation specifically for southern and western Winnetka. The project is called the “Alternatives Evaluation” as it aims to uncover and evaluate a series of creative, holistic, technically and scientifically sound, sustainable, feasible, and cost-effective improvements for flood risk reduction.
In October 2015, the Village hired Strand Associates as the engineer to evaluate non-tunnel alternatives.
The Village selected Strand Associates from a field of 14 firms that responded to a July 2015 Request for Proposals. Through interviews, their proposed team demonstrated the combination of creative and sound approach with successful experience finding stormwater solutions on other complex flood reduction projects the Village believed was required. Strand’s approach advances a thorough hydraulic/hydrologic modeling review and broad consideration of opportunities in and outside the study area, all supported by a robust public engagement process. Details on Strand’s past projects and references is available in their proposal.
The Village’s 2015 agreement with Strand Associates includes a not-to-exceed contract amount of $256,050 for the required scope of work.
By agreement, Strand Associates is projected to make their final report to the Village Council by the end of April, 2016.
Strand is tasked with studying a wider variety of approaches and improvements than was packaged with the engineering design of the STADI project. Strand’s evaluation will include the engineering and cost implications of approaches for level of protection up to and including the 100-year storm event.
Public engagement, especially of those who have been directly impacted by flooding in the Study Areas, will take place throughout Strand’s process. The Awareness Phase allows Strand to gather additional detail and verify data, without re-doing all past hydraulic/hydrologic modeling. For instance, Strand is open to receiving direct input and/or documentation about past flooding experience from Residents of these areas. To submit flood-related information to Strand, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the Exploration Phase open houses, held March 3 and March 5, Strand presented a variety of alternatives including a mix of distributed homeowner-level green infrastructure improvements, neighborhood stormwater management and conveyance, and watershed-based stormwater storage. No single improvement will reach the Village’s goal, so a combination of improvement opportunities are being assessed to create a final vision for stormwater and flood control in western and southwestern Winnetka. More information, including a video of Strand’s presentation, a copy of Strand’s PowerPoint, and a comment form, are available at the March Open House page. Comments received from the public are being used to evaluate the potential stormwater opportunities and to develop the Village’s final vision for stormwater management and flood control.
Moving forward, Strand will identify the combination of opportunities that together make up the Village’s recommended stormwater management and flood control vision. Public input is welcome as this process proceeds to the Vision Phase Workshop at the Washburne School Theater at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12. Please note there will be no Village Council meeting that night. At that time, the public will have the chance to hear about the process used to develop the final vision, see renderings of the recommended improvements, understand the anticipated costs and timeline for implementation of the vision, and provide comments for consideration in finalizing the Vision for Village Council deliberation.
Stormwater master planning refers to the development of a comprehensive plan to identify and characterize key components that should be implemented to protect the watershed against stormwater related challenges. The end result of a master plan may be a watershed plan, an ordinance, a site design or a stormwater Best Management Practice (BMP) implementation plan.
Stormwater master plans address potential flooding and nonpoint source pollution impacts of an existing or proposed stormwater management system to meet increasing demands for additional stormwater capacity or to improve water quality. Stormwater planning helps to mitigate potential damage to property, infrastructure, and ensure public safety and health. Stormwater planning is an important tool in solving water quality problems and protecting private property rights. It provides a roadmap or implementation guideline to help achieve these goals.
The Stormwater Master Plan will serve to unify all Village activities related to stormwater and sanitary sewer management – streamlining these efforts. This comprehensive multi-faceted plan will manage stormwater runoff quality and quantity, and sanitary sewer discharges – protecting and enhancing property values in the community and promoting a thriving and sustainable community. The Plan will guide the Village’s stormwater policy and decision-making for the next five to ten years.
A draft of the Stormwater Master Plan was presented to the Village Council in July, 2013. The Plan was adopted by the Village Council on April 17, 2014. A copy of the approved Master Plan is available here. Copies are also available at Village Hall, Public Works Yards, and the Winnetka Library.
The Village of Winnetka has retained Baxter & Woodman Consulting Engineers to complete the plan. This consultant has over 65 years of experience helping municipalities plan improvements to infrastructure and regulations. Baxter & Woodman’s capabilities and experience cover all phases of stormwater management and planning.
Visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency website at http://cfpub1.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/swbasicinfo.cfm or the Federal Emergency Management Association website at http://www.ready.gov/floods.
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