Steady drain: Naperville continues efforts to ease flooding

City of Naperville employee, Terald Brue, lowers the camera down a manhole that will inspect the sewer system for cracks and leaks in Naperville on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
City of Naperville employee, Terald Brue, lowers the camera down a manhole that will inspect the sewer system for cracks and leaks in Naperville on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media

Naperville’s water utility is seeing progress flow steadily forward in its campaign to reduce the likelihood that the nightmarish floods of April 2013 will recur.

A subsidy that supports that goal was expanded recently to sweeten the deal for those whose residential infrastructure is now set up to thwart flooding through noncompliant means.

The city recently extended an olive branch to property owners whose sump pumps are tapped illegally into the municipal sanitary sewer network, in an attempt to improve the performance of flood prevention measures now in place.

After finding tepid response to its offer of 75 percent reimbursement for the cost of backflow prevention devices for residents to attach to their sanitary sewer service lines to discourage basement backups, the city now is allowing the same price break for those who are ready to bring their sump pumps into compliance with local codes.

According to Jim Holzapfel, director of the water and wastewater utilities, fewer than one-fourth of more than 300 homeowners approved for the backflow prevention offset after they saw sewage flow into their basements last year had availed themselves of the payback opportunity as of April 30. The money allocated for the program has sufficient surplus funds, he said, to cover the sump pump correction subsidies as well.

“As participation in the Sanitary Sewer Backflow Prevention Program remains low, no change to the budget is needed,” Holzapfel said in a recent memo to City Manager Doug Krieger.

The city spends $2.2 million to $2.4 million every year on its sewer relining program, in place for the past dozen years, aiming to reduce the amount of underground and surface water that ends up in the sewers. When illegal sump pumps are part of the system, they “marginalize our efforts and the resources expended in the effort to eliminate excessive flows,” Holzapfel said.

According to Mark Straughn, manager of the utility’s water distribution and collection division, the sump-pump scofflaws include eight connections discovered in the Cress Creek neighborhood, north of Ogden Avenue around Royal St. George Drive. With chronic flooding issues blamed on the double-whammy of faulty drainage and a high water table, and some estimates of sewage-filled basements there running in the hundreds after the extraordinary rains in mid-April 2013, priority went to Cress Creek in this year’s relining program.

The work wrapped up in the neighborhood earlier this month and will next focus on the Will-O-Way and Brush Hill subdivisions, beginning in the fall.

Sump pumps that operate beyond compliance parameters are not, however, confined to the handful of neighborhoods that bore the brunt of last year’s floods, which also included Naperville Heights, East Highlands and West Highlands.

“Illegal sump pumps are city-wide and probably number in the hundreds,” Straughn said in an email this week.

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