Lake County, Illinois

Lake County, Illinois, Builds Partnerships and Capability

Partnerships are the crux of floodplain management in unincorporated Lake County, Illinois, and that starts with the local CRS program itself. The County uses a “CRS Program Committee,” a three-person team made up of Mea Blauer, Plan Review Specialist; Eric Steffen, Senior Engineer; and Brian Frank, Senior Engineer. “This gives us diversity of experience,” says Blauer. The County believes that its CRS success is due to this team approach.

A CRS Class 6 community, Lake County lies along Lake Michigan north of Chicago. It has a criss-cross of streams, lakes, wetlands. The population is about 700,000.

Partnerships and Connections

Because of the CRS, the team has more reasons to develop strong partnerships with other county agencies. “We have gotten to know them, their mission, and how we can support each other,” says Frank. This helps everyone do a better job to ensure safety and quality of life for the residents. Some of the CRS team’s strongest interactions are with the County’s Geographic Information System (GIS) Mapping Division, the County Emergency Management Agency, the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Transportation, and the Lake County Health Department.

Many of these agencies are housed in the central building complex, which is also where permits are processed, making better coordination easier. “It’s particularly helpful when we have a flood, because you’re already used to working with these people. Things go more smoothly because you are already familiar with the other programs and staffs,” the team agrees.

“We work very closely with our Stormwater Management Commission, and have adopted their standards into our program, earning CRS credit in the process,” observes Steffen.

The County works to establish connections with its residents, too, even one-on-one. Besides flood information brochures, mailings, a website, and other outreach efforts, Lake County prides itself on always having a staff person available by phone to answer questions. “People are much more accepting if they can talk to a live person,” says Blauer. “We also encourage our citizens to walk in and discuss their needs and the requirements of the program.”

The Lake County CRS team likes to tell a story about a floodplain resident who came into the office to get a permit to do substantial improvements. When told about the elevation requirements that would apply because he exceeded the 50% threshold, he became very resistant and was vocal in his criticism of the County’s management of its floodplain. “But then,” says Blauer, “during the 2013 flood, all of his neighbor’s homes were flooded but his wasn’t. He thanked us profusely for having the requirement that he elevate his home. Now he is one of our biggest supporters.”

Stronger Regulatory Standards

Before joining the CRS in 2008, the County already required two feet of freeboard and a 10-year substantial improvement requirement—both now earning CRS credit. Creditable additions to the County’s regulatory scheme have included standards for both runoff volume and water quality at sites of new development.

Buffers between new development and the floodplains and wetlands help protect natural functions of floodprone areas, and also earn CRS credit.

“In the end it is about protecting the public, their property, and our local environment. The higher the standards, the safer you are going to be,” Frank observes.

Building Capability

“The CRS has provided us that framework to collectively involve all the relevant participants—citizens, other county departments, and elected officials,” the team says. “It’s helped us make our floodplain management program more effective and efficient.”

According to Lake County’s CRS team, having a single document—the CRS Coordinator’s Manual—that is easy to follow has made a big difference. “It essentially has everything we need, but it’s no problem to get extra information from time to time,” notes Steffen. They report that, with the CRS framework, it is easier to be transparent, field questions, and be consistent in the responses.

“Once we got this clear and organized way to explain the reasons for what we are doing, resistant members of the public relaxed and became more receptive,” Blauer remarks. “It also has made it easier for our elected officials to understand and, in turn, for them to explain floodplain management and the CRS to their constituents.”

Editor’s note: This is just a snapshot of Lake County’s floodplain management program. For more, see the County’s website.