For years, residents and businesses in North Chicago have dealt with the costly and disruptive impacts of flooding from major storm events. However, help is on the way in the form of the North Chicago Storm Sewer Project, a comprehensive effort to reduce flood risks throughout the area.

The project, funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Pre-Disaster Mitigation grant program, aims to improve stormwater conveyance and increase flood storage capacity at multiple locations along the Skokie Highway and Skokie River. This $8.2 million endeavor is being spearheaded by the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission in close coordination with the City of North Chicago, Naval Base Great Lakes, and other local stakeholders.

“The flooding we’ve seen, especially after the massive storm in July 2017, has taken an immense toll on our community,” said North Chicago Mayor Leon Woods. “With this project, we’re taking proactive steps to prevent that kind of devastating damage from happening again.”

The centerpiece of the project is the construction of a two-stage channel along a 3,860-foot section of the Skokie River on Naval Base property. By widening the channel and incorporating floodplain benches, the design allows the river to handle higher volumes of water during heavy rain events. Environmentally friendly practices will be used, including planting native vegetation along the new channel slopes.

In addition to the river channel work, the project includes numerous improvements to upgrade aging and undersized storm sewers across North Chicago. This includes:

  • Removing and replacing existing pipes, culverts, and outlet control structures
  • Installing over 1,700 feet of new large-diameter storm sewers up to 60 inches across
  • Constructing a new water quality channel and junction chambers
  • Making stormwater infrastructure improvements along the U.S. 41 highway corridor

“We’ve taken a comprehensive approach to tackle the flooding problem from multiple angles,” said Kevin Hayde, Lead Project Engineer with the Stormwater Commission. “Upsizing those old, inadequate storm sewers and providing more storage for excess water in the Skokie River channel will give the whole system the capacity it needs.”

Reducing flood risks is critically important, as climate change models show the frequency and intensity of major rain storms continuing to increase in the years ahead. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of precipitation falling in the Midwest’s heaviest rain events has risen by 35% over the past 50 years.

In addition to protecting homes, businesses, and major transportation routes like U.S. 41, the project will benefit Naval Base Great Lakes by preventing future flood damage on the base. As a key economic engine for the region, keeping the base operating is a high priority.

Construction on the multi-faceted project is expected to begin in Spring 2024 and take approximately 16 months to complete. Though it will involve temporary disruptions like road closures and staging areas, residents overwhelmingly support the investment to fortify their community against increasingly extreme weather.

“This project is going to make such a difference for Strawberry Condominium residents who have seen terrible flooding in the past,” said Nancy Thompkins, who has lived there for 12 years. “The peace of mind of knowing our homes and our neighborhood will be protected is going to be priceless.”

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