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Flood Plain Property Protection and Safety

Flood Prevention and Protection

All residents can assist the Village of Winnetka’s efforts to prevent and minimize flooding in Winnetka by doing the following:

  • Do not dump or throw anything into ditches, swales, streams or other water conveyance systems.  Dumping or altering grades is in violation with the Village’s ordinance Sections 9.16.020.B.11; 14.04.130.A.1; 15.32.080.G and L; and 15.68.  Even grass clippings, mulch and branches can accumulate and block drainage.  When a drainage-way is obstructed, the water can get displaced onto adjacent properties, potentially causing flooding.
  • If your property is adjacent to a drainage ditch or swale, please do your part and keep the area clear of brush and debris.  The Village of Winnetka has a maintenance program which can help remove major blockages such as downed trees.
  • If you see dumping or debris in ditches, swales or streams, or any filling within the flood plain (including the placement of mulch, soil, timbers, stone, raised gardens or patios, porches, sheds, or any other material or structure, please contact the Public Works Department at 847-716-3568, and the Village can investigate the situation and follow the necessary procedures to handle the violation.  It is important to make the call while the activity is in process.  Otherwise, it can be very difficult to assess whether it is a new or existing condition.
  • If you are considering development on your property, including altering, regrading or filling on your property, a permit will most likely need to be obtained through the Community Development Department, with approval by the Public Works Engineering Division, to ensure that there will be no fill in the flood plain and no adverse drainage impacts on adjacent properties.  Contact the Village of Winnetka Permit Clerk at 847-716-3520 and Engineering at 847-716-3568 to determine whether a permit or approval will be required prior to the work commencing.  Again, it is important to make the call while the activity is in process.  Otherwise, it can be very difficult to assess whether it is a new or existing condition.
  • If you see a building or filling without a Village permit posted, please contact the Community Development and/or Public Works Department at 847-716-3520 or 847-716-3568.

If your home or property is experiencing flooding in the form of ponding water, basement flooding by surface waters, seepage or through the floor drains, there are certain steps you can take to help minimize the problem.

  • If you are experiencing ponding water on your property that is only draining by either evaporation or infiltrating into the ground, you may want to consider installing a storm inlet in the low area on the property to collect storm water and discharge it into the public storm system.  If there is already an existing storm service to the property, and if grade elevations allow for positive drainage and the service is in good condition, then you may be able to tie the inlet into the existing service.  Otherwise, a new storm service can be brought to the site, disconnecting any existing storm service at the main. 
  • If you are experiencing water entering the basement by topping over the window wells or seeping through the foundation wall or footing, providing positive drainage away from the foundation and/or maintaining the foundation’s drain tiles, may help in this case.
  • If you are experiencing water entering through the floor drain in the basement, then, most likely, the sanitary sewer service is the issue, and will need to be investigated.  The first item to investigate, in any case, is to ensure that the storm sewer and sanitary sewer services are not interconnected, in any way.  If it is found that they are, they must be separated, immediately, in accordance with Section 15.24.070 of the Village Code.  Once this issue has been addressed, the Village of Winnetka has a program in place called the Sanitary Sewer Backflow Prevention which assists homeowners in defraying the costs associated with the installation of a sanitary sewer backflow prevention device or overhead sewers.  For additional information about this program, please contact Susan Chen at 847-716-3532 or 

It is important to note that any alteration to a structure or land requires a permit from the Community Development Department be issued with approval by the Public Works Engineering Division.  Also, ANY alteration, regrading or filling in the flood plain requires a permit.

Flood Hazards and Storm Safety

During a storm or flood event, please keep the following safety precautions in mind:

  • Do not walk through flowing water.  Currents can be deceptive; six inches of moving water can knock you off of your feet.  If you have to walk through standing water, use a pole or stick to ensure that the ground is still there.  Often times, the force of the water can lift manhole covers right off of the manhole, and whether the manhole is 2’ deep or 15’ deep, falling into one could cause serious injury or death.
  • Avoid driving through a flooded area, as it could cause not only damage to the vehicle, but could potentially cause injury or loss of life.  Don’t drive around road barriers, as the road or bridge may be washed out or otherwise compromised.
  • Stay away from downed power lines and electrical wires. The number two flood killer after drowning is electrocution.  Electrical current can travel through water.  Report downed power lines, power outages or water outages to 847-501-2531.
  • Look out for small animals, especially snakes.  Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours.  Use a pole or stick to poke and turn things over and scare away small animals.
  • Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris including broken bottles and nails.  Floors and stair that have been covered with mud can be slippery.
  • Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage.  Don’t smoke or use candles, lanterns, or open flames unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area is well ventilated.

The Illinois Drainage Law

The Illinois Drainage Law states that landowners must accept the advantages or inconveniences of drainage that nature places upon their land. One of the most important principles of the Illinois Drainage Law is that owners cannot adversely alter drainage and that owners of lower ground must receive surface water that naturally flows onto it from higher ground. Where the natural flow is from one tract across another tract, the higher land is the dominant tenement, and the lower land is the servient tenement. Owners of dominant tenements have legal rights to have water drain off their lands. Owners of servient tenements have the duty of not obstructing the natural flow.

A landowner has no right to obstruct the flow of surface water. Under Illinois law, the owner of lower land has no right to build a dam, levee, or other artificial structure that will interfere with the drainage of higher land. In fact, the willful and intentional interference by an owner of lower land is considered a petty offense and is punishable by a fine. This is in addition to private lawsuits that the owners of affected properties may file.

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