Blue Island residents turn storm water into resource

January 18, 2013 3:40:17 PM PST
A combination of old pipes and sewer issues cause backups just about every time there's a storm in Blue Island. Now, neighbors are working together to fix the problem.

A tot lot and dormant garden outside the Paul Revere Elementary School are primary elements to a new city plan in south suburban Blue Island.

"This building has about 25 downspouts that feed into the sewers. It's a very large building and so it kind of helped the flooding of our neighbors and our community members to our south. They've gotten all of our rainwater down into their properties. So it was a combined effort to help relieve our flooding and also help our students with the ability to get the rainwater to use for our gardens," Carl Gmazel, principal at Paul Revere Intermediate School, said.

The historic town has long had trouble keeping storm water out of residents' basements. Now hundreds of churches, homeowners and businesses have agreed to install rain barrels to divert storm water and gardens to help absorb even more.

"With the green infrastructure approach, we want to keep some of that storm water out of our sewers and let residents use the water. They can bring the water into rain gardens. They could use it to grow vegetables. It becomes a resource rather than a waste," Jason Berry, City of Blue Island, said.

The plan also calls for changes on public property, including lowering curbs at intersections that routinely flood.

"If we can cut out some of the pavement. If we can recess some of the planting material, that'll actually help soak up and store some of that storm water and alleviate some stress on the sewer system," Josh Ellis, Metropolitan Planning Council, said.

Organizers hope these small scale efforts will combine to relieve a big problem.

"What I love about green infrastructure is it provides a practical solution that you can see. It's above ground and it's a way to get the neighborhoods involved," Berry said.

Blue Island city leaders have applied for a grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to pay for many of the infrastructure changes. They expect a response around June 1. For more information about their initiative, visit and