Flooding isn’t going away – not on the Rock River or the Fox or the Illinois.
If anything, it’s likely going to get worse due to climate change and development upstream.
The Fox River at Algonquin, for example, saw five major flood events during the 2010s, a concerning number since that same point in the river flooded to that level just six times over the nine decades before that.
The Rock River at Dixon has experienced only one major flooding event where water levels exceeded 20 feet in its recorded history – in the 1970s when two other moderate floods occurred. No flooding events followed until 1996 and then again nothing until 2010. Since then, at least one flooding event occurred in 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, including three regular floods and three moderate ones in 2019 alone.
Where the Illinois River runs through Morris, a major flood 11 times since record keeping began in 1900. One of those occurred in the 1980s, two in the 1990s, another two in the 2000s and three in the 2010s. The river flooded at Morris six times each of the last two decades, the highest number ever recorded.
Collaboration among local, state and federal officials is necessary to combat flooding issues anywhere, and examples found among communities along the Fox and Illinois have shown their value.
The work completed by the Fox River Flood Commission and the coalition that inspired it, Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance, doesn’t just keep riverfront communities on the same page. It gives them the opportunity to leverage their knowledge and numbers to obtain grant dollars and other funding to accomplish flood mitigation projects.
The federal government is “looking for projects and communities that are proactively planning to prevent flooding before it happens,” said state Sen. Sue Rezin, who led the creation of the Illinois River group. “By participating in this coalition, it elevates us when communities, as a member of our coalition, then go and apply for grants.”
The Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance led to millions of dollars in grants for area communities across Rezin’s district and helped ensure all the communities were on the same page, said Mike Sutfin, the now-retired flood plain manager from Ottawa.
As Sutfin put it, he can be the best flood plain manager in the world, but that doesn’t matter if people up and downstream from him are filling in the flood plains with development.
Coalitions like these two should be replicated across the state, and its membership should include both state and local actors, including at least one state legislator to ensure that someone is advocating for the money needed – for sediment dredging projects, for property buyouts.
Flooding is the type of issue that is on everyone’s radar when water is everywhere, McHenry County Board member Carolyn Schofield told the Northwest Herald for its investigation about Flooding on the Fox. But when they aren’t, they tend to be forgotten.
“When it’s a problem, it’s a problem,” she said. “When it’s not, it’s not.”
The communities along Illinois rivers can’t afford for flooding to be forgotten until the next big flood.