Champaign council to address storm flooding, sewer concerns

When it rains, it pours. And when it pours too often and too hard, it can lead to flooding in the streets of campus. According to Keith Erickson, manager of utility distribution for the University Office for Facilities Planning and Programs, flooding hasn’t been much of a problem this year, though there have been unusually heavy rainfalls for the past couple of years which can lead to clogging of the sewer system.

“Most streets are designed for what’s called a ten year storm detention,” Erickson said. “This means that the detention is typically able to hold ten years worth of water from rainfall. But due to three heavy rainfalls from last year, and the one from last week, it makes it harder for the sewers to collect the water fast enough.”

Some local streets flooded for about five to ten minutes during the most recent heavy rainfall, Erickson said, adding that no flooding occurred within any of the University buildings. Residential areas of Champaign were most prone to flooding, he said.

The Champaign City Council will hold a special meeting this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Central High cafeteria to address residential flooding concerns among citizens, specifically the overflow of sewers that occurred on Washington Street.

According to the Stormwater Management Web site maintained by University Facilities and Services, stormwater is precipitation that flows through the storm sewers and discharges into either Boneyard Creek or the Embarras River. Stormwater coordinator C. Eliana Brown said in an e-mail, “Rainwater washes litter into storm drains which blocks them, reduces their capacity and causes backups.”

The University’s Stormwater Management Plan, which focuses on improving water quality, includes a program that prohibits illegal discharges, such as litter and chemicals, from going into the storm sewers. Drainage requirements are placed upon campus buildings to send lower quality water to a sanitary sewer.

“In the past five years, the University has evaluated, found and repaired illicit storm sewer connections in 60 campus buildings,” Brown said. “The purpose of the program is to prevent pollution from reaching Boneyard Creek. It also mitigates flooding by redirecting the connection away from the storm sewer.”

Since March 2003, students and community members have collaborated to clean area sewers, creeks and drainage systems as part of the program. According to the Stormwater Management Web site, during the fourth annual Boneyard Creek Community Day in April 2009, volunteers applied medallions engraved with the phrase, “No Dumping Drains to Creek,” to campus storm drains. The group also cleaned up debris all around campus.

There aren’t any preparations that can be taken before a heavy rainfall, Erickson said. Daily servicing of the pipes and drains is what keeps flooding at bay.

Todd Short, director of Campus Emergency Planning, said that when a flood occurs on campus, he coordinates very closely with Facilities and Services staff to contain the damage.

“If a flood is bad enough,” Short said, “we will send the required machines and personnel. There seems to have been a particularly noticeable decrease in flooding as a result of the Boneyard Project.”