Floodplains become a Plus for Lisle, Illinois
As one of the first communities to join the Community Rating System (in 1991), the Village of Lisle, Illinois, already had a good idea of how to manage its floodprone areas—which amount to almost one-fifth of the community’s area. The Village had been requiring two feet of freeboard on new building, for example, but “since the CRS, our ordinance just kept getting better and better,” says Mary Lou Kalsted, Lisle’s second CRS Coordinator (now retired).
Lisle lies mainly in the eastern portion of the DuPage River watershed, near Chicago. The river and four creeks bring periodic flooding. Lisle was settled in 1830 and incorporated in 1956. The population is no nearly 25,000.
Over the years, Kalsted says, “We became big believers in the program.” So much so that, when Kalsted retired, the Village hired Marilyn Sucoe, the new Stormwater Administrator/CRS Coordinator, in part because of her prior experience with the CRS. “The Village wanted to make sure it continued in a positive CRS direction,” adds Sucoe. “The CRS creates a structure for managing your floodplains and the point system encourages you to do better.”
Damage Avoided in 2013 Flood
In 2013 the community was hit with a flood of record that resulted in 36 substantially damaged homes and businesses. Most of the homes in the floodplains were built in the 1930s but, because of CRS-credited outreach projects, the residents knew they were in the floodplain and most of them had flood insurance. “The CRS-related awareness projects also prevented flood amnesia,” Sucoe notes. A lot of the flood-damaged homes will be torn down and a few have been or will be elevated. Because of the CRS, their replacements are flood protected to a higher standard.
Multi-purpose Open Space is a Big Plus
Efforts to preserve open space were underway before the CRS. “What the CRS did was make us document what were already doing,” says Sucoe. A lot of the floodplain areas have been transformed into parks and detention basins with recreation. As the efforts expanded, a better relationship developed between the parks department and the stormwater management department. “Now, we and the parks people embrace the advantages of having parks in the floodplains, Sucoe says. A county ordinance requires protection of riparian habitat and the community gets CRS credit for that as well.
One big open space accomplishment that was totally funded by the community was the creation of an open space area for multiple uses near downtown. In a few-block floodprone area, 29 homes were purchased by the Village to create a detention basin. One home was relocated and the rest were demolished to create an open area. The Village constructed a detention basin as the centerpiece of the two-acre PrairieWalk Pond.
The attraction combines flood water storage, stormwater detention, native flora and fauna, attractive landscaping, a nature trail, shops, and dining. It has become a focal point of downtown.
CRS is an Incentive in Other Ways
Although Lisle has had an active stormwater management program for decades, the community decided more recently to re-focus their drainage system maintenance from the river to its tributaries. “The CRS helped us pull that together in an organized fashion,” says Sucoe. “It also helped our public works office look at stormwater management and drainage system maintenance in a broader way.”
Prompted by the CRS outreach guidelines, the Village started distributing an educational newsletter to the homes and business in or near the community’s floodplains. The newsletter goes out to 800–1000 residents once a year. In addition, a quarterly village newsletter carries outreach articles. “Without the CRS, I doubt that we would have done this,” Sucoe comments.
“Probably one of the biggest contributions of the CRS is that it gives me leverage when I present my budget to the city council, says Sucoe. She emphasizes to the council the advantages of being a CRS community and that those advantages are well worth the various costs associated with the program. “Without the CRS, it would be hard to compete with the police department for funding, ” Sucoe says.
Note: This is a just a glimpse of the many floodplain and stormwater management activities the Lisle pursues. For more, see the city’s website.