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Even Deep Tunnel Couldn't Control Flooding, City Finds

By Ted Cox | April 19, 2013 11:08am
 Emergency Management Executive Director Gary Schenkel says the city continues to work to curtail flooding.
Emergency Management Executive Director Gary Schenkel says the city continues to work to curtail flooding.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CHICAGO — The Deep Tunnel wasn't deep enough, as it turned out.

According to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the entire 109 miles of tunnels built over the last 30 years to handle the Chicago area's water were filled shortly after midnight Thursday, as the five-inch rainfall was just getting started. So were the reservoirs built to contain rainwater.

That's 2.3 billion gallons of water in the tunnels alone, which were full and flowing throughout the day.

MWRD opened the Wilmette lock on the north shore at 1:25 a.m. Thursday, the Chicago River controlling system downtown at 3:47 a.m. and the O'Brien controlling system to the south at 6:15 a.m., yet it wasn't enough to keep the North Branch from flooding Albany Park.

Peoples Gas shut off service to 300 Albany Park customers, and the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications put out a statement saying:  "Technicians are monitoring the situation around the clock and are working closely with the city in order to restore service and check appliances once flood waters have receded and it is safe to carry out inspections."

Peoples Gas spokeswoman Bonnie Johnson said technicians continued to work on service for the 300 disconnected households Friday morning. The utility put out a statement warning that residents should not enter flooded basements until the gas and electricity have been disconnected and that basements should be drained with a gas- or generator-powered water pump or one powered by an outside source of electricity.

If you smell gas in a flooded basement, call the Peoples Gas emergency number at 866-556-6002. The ComEd number to have service disconnected is 800-334-7661.

Citywide, OEMC reported 2,200 calls to 311 on flooded basements, 571 reports of flooded streets and 32 of flooded viaducts.

"We will continue to work to ensure the safety of our communities as we assist residents affected by flooding," said OEMC Executive Director Gary Schenkel.

"The City is committed to serving our residents by working tirelessly and as quickly as possible to address the challenges resulting from the heavy rainfall," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has been kept abreast of the situation while in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) planned to tour the flooded area in the western suburbs and Albany Park throughout the day Friday.

According to MWRD spokeswoman Allison Fore, Deep Tunnel, formally known as the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, began operation in 1985 with two key elements: the 109 miles of tunnels, some 30 feet wide and 300 feet underground, primarily designed for pollution control but aiding in flood control, and three reservoirs primarily intended for flood control.

There's optimistic news for flood-riddled city residents on that front, as the reservoirs remain under construction. The Majewski reservoir, near O'Hare International Airport, is capable of holding 350 million gallons of water, and was completed in 1998. But the south-suburban Thornton reservoir will not be completed until 2015 and the first phase of the west-suburban McCook reservoir is to be completed in 2017, with the final phase set for 2029. The latter two will eventually provide an additional 14.8 billion gallons of water storage, "significantly improving the flood-control capacity," according to Fore.

Schenkel said there would be additional Streets and Sanitation crews working this weekend to collect bulk items of trash from flooded basements. Residents in need of a bulk pickup are asked to call 311.