Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) feels her ward residents’ pain.

Her newly-remodeled basement flooded during the record July 23 storm that dumped nearly seven inches of rain on Chicago.

“I felt the pain the last time,” she said, referring to last year’s rainstorm that fell almost to the date as this year’s. “I know what we went through.”

To address a flood of complaints, Mitts assembled several Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) commissioners-and representatives from the city’s water department-on July 28 to address residents’ concerns. Commissioners Barbara McGowan, Debra Shore and Frank Avila attended the meeting.

Nearly 200 residents packed a meeting room in the Coca-Cola Bottling plant, 1401 N. Cicero Ave., to find out why their basements keep flooding. Mitts called the meeting to inform residents on what the city is doing to help residents clean up.

“No one is saying anything,” said Mitts, who took it upon herself to collect service request forms to tally ward residents with flooded basements. “If some type of resources comes in, we have a way of knowing who got flooded and who we need help.”

As of July 25, her office collected 375 forms. Residents, though, had few options.

Last month’s storm was not declared a natural disaster by the federal government. Such a declaration would allow residents to receive financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Terrence O’Brien, president of the water reclamation district, explained the county’s role in flood prevention. He said the county relies on its deep tunnel project, which funnels water into one of three reservoirs that capture both sewer and rainwater overflow. 

The reservoirs have a capacity of 2.6 billion gallons of water during a heavy rainfall, but one inch of rain throughout the county equals 15 billion gallons of water, O’Brien explained. Two of the reservoirs, however, he noted, are not complete.

“The same sewer that takes the waste water from your homes also takes the rain water,” he said. “When the system begins to back up…(water) seeks its first open spot. And where is that first opening spot – your basements.”

Tom LaPorte, an assistant commissioner with the Water Management Department contends that July’s heavy rains are a result of global warming. In the past, the city experienced “one big storm and everybody would flood,” he explained-now, the city experiences more frequent “pounding” and “driving” rain storms.

LaPorte said the city’s sewer system cannot handle storms of that magnitude, no matter how much the city spends on sewer improvements.

Preventing basement flooding begins by keeping the water on the street, LaPorte insisted. The city has installed rain-blockers, a device that slows rain water entering the sewer. He said the devices are designed to hold the water in the street, a controversial technique that didn’t sit well with some city residents. Some of the devices are missing, he added, and the city plans to replace them.

“We would rather have the water in the street than in your basement,” LaPorte said.

LaPorte urged residents to help reduce basement flooding by removing their downspout from the sewers-disconnecting the downspout will allow the water to drain into the ground.

“The city has this system that was put in 100 years ago, and we never guaranteed that we could avoid flooding,” LaPorte said. “What I can tell you is that we are doing everything we can to reduce the flooding, and it is going to take all of us working together.”

Other flood prevention options were offered but those came as no consolation to Kimberly and Terrence Dixon, who received three to four inches of water in their basement. Kimberly Dixon said she was discouraged and disappointed that the city isn’t doing more to prevent flooding. During last year’s flood, they lost nearly $10,000 in furniture, appliance and mementoes.

“(The city) should take our tax money and do something to fix this problem. It is ridiculous,” Kimberly Dixon said.