Calumet City flooding costs residents thousands, and problem is only getting worse

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone and Maggie Green WLS logo
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Calumet City flooding costs residents thousands, and problem is only getting worse
Flooding in Illinois is a widespread problem that's only been getting worse, as residents of Calumet City know all too well.

CALUMET CITY, Ill. (WLS) -- Residents of south suburban Calumet City are often frustrated by ongoing flooding and sewer problems. But city officials say flooding is a widespread problem that's only been getting worse.

Lois Johnson and her neighbor Christina Joyner said their homes have flooded multiple times in recent years, the latest time during a heavy rainfall on July 5.

"This is twice in three months," Joyner said.

Both women have sump pumps and check valves to safeguard against sewer water entering, but it's not enough.

"The storm was so strong it blew the marble covering up off and the steel casing was blown up and sitting on the ledge," said Johnson, whose finished basement was filled with 22 inches of sewer water last July.

Johnson lost her water tank, heating, exercise equipment and furniture. She said in the last four years she has paid more than $25,000 to repair flood-related damage.

"Everything is just destroyed at this point," he said.

Johnson's flood insurance recently only paid out $5,000, because she isn't covered for water back-ups in her drains, toilets, shower or sink. The money was not nearly enough to cover all of the damage. Joyner didn't have flood insurance and estimates her losses from July's flood to be around $20,000. She said that some items, like school pictures and paintings, are irreplaceable.

In July, Governor JB Pritzker proclaimed Calumet City a disaster area so residents can apply for $2,500 in assistance, per household. FEMA is also offering assistance.

Flooding is expected to only get worse. The ABC7 Data Team analyzed flooding risk data from the First Street Foundation and found that nearly 50% of homes in Calumet City have at least a one-in-four chance of flooding at least once in the next 30 years. More than 10% of properties across Calumet City have an 80% risk of flooding during that time frame.

But it gets worse. Just 10 miles away, in the eastern part of Midlothian, more than 75% of properties have a major risk of flooding at least once in the next 30 years.

"Climate change is causing more of these, what we would call, 100 year flood events and 50 year flood events, more often," said Ken Chastain, an engineering consultant for Calumet City, who is working with its new mayor, Thaddeus Jones, to prevent flooding. "It happens because of years of neglect of infrastructure, and then just more rain events."

Chastain said Calumet City, along with the Village of Lansing, received nearly $15 million in grants from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clear vegetation and rebuild the levy along the Little Calumet River where flooding is also a problem.

"We have a plan to rebuild the levy, make it higher so that it'll be able to withstand those flood waters," he said.

He said Calumet City is modernizing and reconstructing alleys to help mitigate flooding and replacing or rehabbing bad sewers. The city is also pursuing federal grants for possible construction of new separate storm sewer systems, to reduce backups in combined sewer systems.

Johnson and Joyner can also apply for financial assistance from the city to get about half the cost covered for an additional sewer system improvements at their homes to prevent flooding.

"It's just one out of pocket expense after the next after the next," Joyner said.

Calumet City leaders said Johnson and Joyner don't live in the city's floodplain; their flooding was mainly from sewer backup issues. However, all residents can still get flood insurance and qualify for an additional 25% discount through the federal program.

No matter where you live you should check with your local municipality and see what local and federal programs are offered.