Illinois Counties Can Provide Essential Flood Protection for Their Communities

The Illinois Legislature took a major step toward reducing urban flooding by passing HB4748 and giving 86 Illinois counties the authority to adopt stormwater management plans and standards and provide essential flood protection services to their villages, homeowners and businesses.  On May 17, 2018, House Bill 4748 (HB4748) easily passed in the Senate having passed in the House unanimously in March. 

Illinois has 102 counties, 32 of which meet the definition of “urban”. Under the Illinois Counties Code, 16 urban counties currently have the authority to develop county-wide stormwater management plans and adopt ordinances to implement them. This allows these counties to establish strategies to protect water quality in streams and lakes from polluted runoff and mitigate the damage to property caused by flooding, including flooding that takes place in urban communities, unrelated to riverbank overflows, known as “urban flooding.” 

Many of the remaining 86 counties in the State, particularly the urban ones, experience severe flooding and water pollution due to frequent, intense rainfall and runoff, increasing amounts of impermeable surfaces from development, and the inadequate capacity of storm sewers constructed decades ago.  Yet, those counties are only permitted to adopt plans and development standards in unincorporated areas, which have grown smaller and smaller as the counties urbanize. 

HB4748 is not a mandate. It simply allows counties, if they choose, to adopt plans and minimum standards applicable everywhere within their borders, and thereby consolidate all existing local stormwater management regulations into a unified program.  The bill also adds the following:

1. Specific authority to address urban flooding, the flooding that occurs outside floodplains and that repetitively damages homes and businesses in urban communities.

2. Authority to make grants to units of local government, non-profits and landowners to assist with stormwater management and projects, something only nine counties are currently permitted to do.

The Report for The Urban Flooding Awareness Act, issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in June 2015, specifically recommends that the Illinois General Assembly grant stormwater planning and management authority to all Illinois counties to adopt countywide stormwater ordinances, projects and programs. HB 4748 directly addresses that recommendation.

One example of how flooding occurs outside of designated floodplains.

This is important, as the programs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) do not focus on urban flooding in non-floodplain areas. Also, many villages do not have the resources to conduct planning and develop standards to address urban flooding. Illinois counties are well positioned to fill these gaps, and HB4748 ensures that all Illinois counties have the legal authority to provide technical and financial assistance, not just to villages but also to non-profits with the appropriate expertise in flood control and individual landowners who have been hit hard by urban flooding.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) identified the problem of urban flooding through its own research and later worked with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on its Report for The Urban Flooding Awareness Act. CNT will be following up to help implement more of the recommendations from the IDNR study.

Hal Sprague, Manager of Water Policy, will be in the state capitol Springfield, Illinois on May 31, 2018 to address the Illinois Association of Regional Councils on the House Bill 4748.

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