Winnetka, Illinois

Our elected officials and our citizens are 100% behind the CRS and our stormwater master plan. {They} want us to be on the CRS cutting edge and they have encouraged the staff and other Village departments to get behind us as well.
Susan ChenAssistant Village Engineer

CRS Helps Bring It All Together for Winnetka, Illinois

For the Village of Winnetka, Illinois, the last two or three years have been pivotal in reducing the risk from flooding. “Over the past five years, we have been developing a strategy for managing stormwater, which causes most of our flooding concerns,” says Susan Chen, Assistant Village Engineer.

Then, in April 2014, the Village adopted a Stormwater Master Plan to provide direction and guidance for the Village’s stormwater management activities. The Village also adopted the Countywide Watershed Management Ordinance of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), the designated stormwater agency for Cook County. And in 2015, the Village joined the Community Rating System. These three events coalesced to bolster Winnetka’s approach to its flooding concerns and have had other benefits, as well.

“Joining the CRS and implementing its requirements was always a part of our stormwater vision, because the CRS enhances what we are trying to do,” explains Jim Bernahl, Assistant Director of Public Works and Engineering.

Winnetka lies in northeast Illinois, just north of Chicago. Although small in population (about 12,000 people) and size (about 4 square miles), Winnetka is one of the nation’s more affluent communities, which is reflected in its citizens’ willingness to support long-term planning and investments in the well-being of their community.

Intermittent flooding over the years and more severe events in 2008, 2011 and 2013, helped spur the Village to work to improve conveyance and storage of stormwater. The western side of town is particularly vulnerable, and one-eighth of the Village’s housing stock lies in the floodprone areas, so there are 358 National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policies in force.

Partnerships are a Plus

When Winnetka joined the CRS in 2015, it entered as a Class 6. Most of its CRS points came from activities and requirements that were already in place, primarily because of the link with the Master Plan and Watershed Management Ordinance.

“With us, it was a matter of documenting what we were already doing,” said Bernahl.

The adopted MWRD Watershed Management Ordinance incorporates floodplain management regulations that exceed the minimum standards of the NFIP. To these, Winnetka added its own higher standards–including requirements for detaining runoff, adding freeboard to required flood protection elevations, and stringent substantial improvement requirements. To further beef up its management of storm runoff, Winnetka maintains a range of flood-related data, prohibits dumping in the drainageway areas, and every year cleans its ditches, creeks, and catch basins. A videotape system makes it easier to inspect and monitor covered drainage lines. Finally, separate standards for water quality protect the purity of what filters back into the ground.

“Our goal is to have stormwater management and the CRS come together under the umbrella of the Village’s Stormwater Master Plan,” Bernahl explains. “It all works together and the various initiatives all complement each other.”

To accompany existing arrangements, Winnetka will be developing a watershed master plan and forming new partnerships with the park district, school district, nearby forest preserve, and entities that form the Village’s commercial district.

New Website for Outreach

The biggest new thing Winnetka implemented because of the CRS is its education and outreach program, according to Bernahl. The Village has a new floodplain management website that has been particularly beneficial in supplying information on flooding and flood protection.

“Nobody really likes rules, but keeping the citizens informed makes them more accepting of our floodplain management regulations. It formalizes what we are doing and makes it more transparent,” he said. A next step in outreach will be development of a program for public information that will be eligible for CRS credit.

Increase in Credibility & Political Support

Participation in the CRS has generated additional recognition of and support for the efforts of the local staff. “Our elected officials and our citizens are 100% behind the CRS and our stormwater master plan,” Chen explained. “The elected officials want us to be on the CRS cutting edge and they have encouraged the staff and other Village departments to get behind us as well.”

Residents, of course, see benefits in the form of NFIP premium reductions and they also recognize the importance of managing stormwater and other flood-related problems because it maintains a high quality of life in the community. “They want us to be abreast of new requirements and new benefits,” Chen says.

“Carrying out our stormwater management master plan is a multi-million dollar project, which will be funded by a stormwater utility fee,” adds Bernahl. “So reducing flood premiums through the CRS for our 358 policyholders is very important to our citizens because it will help offset the drainage fees.”

Editor’s note: This is just a snapshot of the numerous floodplain management and CRS activities being carried out in Winnetka. For more details, see the city’s website.