Chicago to devote $50 million of water infrastructure spending to improve stormwater management

CHICAGO — As part of his ongoing effort to address basement and street flooding throughout the city, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that $50 million of current spending on upgrades and improvements to the city's water and sewer infrastructure over the next five years will be dedicated to investments in green stormwater management. The $10 million in annual funds will reduce the amount of pollution that flows into the Chicago River and Lake Michigan by investing in proven projects, such as permeable pavement and planting of natural plants and trees. These projects will ultimately create an additional 10 million gallons of natural stormwater storage in the city, which could reduce runoff by 250 million gallons each year.

"Flooding can have a devastating effect on families and their homes, and green infrastructure serves as a key piece of reducing risk to Chicago homeowners and residents," Mayor Emanuel said. "By committing to these improvements and policies we will be in much better position to reduce flooding in future storms and protect the environment going forward. This initiative will change the way the city manages stormwater in the future and allow us to continue developing new technologies and approaches on behalf of our residents and businesses."

The Green Stormwater Infrastructure Strategy Initiative, as it is known, will contain two major elements:

The first element of the initiative is building capital projects that include green stormwater infrastructure in their plans. An interagency government process will be implemented to review projects, locate priority areas and identify green stormwater management capabilities that can be used during the construction. Potential projects include the use of permeable pavement in sewer projects to decrease stormwater runoff into the sewer system, tree planting practices will be enhanced by the use of bioswales, and green stormwater installations will be a part of streetscape projects.

The next part of the overall initiative is planning for the future. The city will undertake a number of studies that analyze the impacts of climate change on the frequency of rainfall and the costs and benefits for a larger-scale implementation of green stormwater infrastructure, both of which will inform the development of a comprehensive citywide stormwater management plan.

“In many cases green infrastructure has proven to be cost effective over traditional hard infrastructure, allowing the City to stretch our capital improvement dollars,” said Tom Powers, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Water Management. “Additionally, green infrastructure often has other non-stormwater related benefits, like serving as open space, creating wildlife habitat and improving property values. I am excited we are bringing this program to Chicagoans.”

All of the goals that are outlined in the green stormwater infrastructure strategy fall in line with the goals outlined in Sustainable Chicago 2015, as well as with the commitments made through Building a New Chicago. Implementation of the green stormwater infrastructure strategy will begin this fall.
 


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