MORRIS – The Grundy County area is no stranger to flooding, but residents need not wait until spring to be reacquainted with rising rivers.
Those living along the Kankakee River could experience severe flooding this Thursday, Friday and Saturday as temperatures rise to mid-40 degrees and much of the area is doused with rain.
“We’re quite concerned about the Kankakee River this next week,” said Jim Lutz, director of the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency. “The ice is 12 inches thick so we’re really worried about ice jams and flooding.”
Ice jams occur when there is a rapid thaw, causing ice to break into pieces, move freely and jam together to create a dam. Behind the ice dam, water can pool up “at an incredibly fast rate,” causing rapid, dangerous floods, Lutz said.
David Beachler, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said the expected rainfall and warm temperatures could likely cause ice jams in the Kankakee River.
“The ice is as bad as I’ve seen it,” Lutz said. “I don’t want to scare the residents, but this reminds me of the ice we had in 1984.”
Monday’s snowfall – which totaled roughly 7 inches – could add to the threat. Beachler said depending on how high temperatures get, the snow pack could melt and run off into surrounding waterways.
“It looks like we’re going to experience temperatures in the middle 40s by Thursday afternoon,” Beachler said. “The unfortunate part about that is the warmer air is going to help melt the snow pack at a much faster rate.”
Lutz said local emergency and weather management agencies are closely monitoring the situation and hope to develop a plan of action by today or Wednesday.
“[Residents] need to be prepared to move rapidly should something happen,” Lutz said. “It’s a really dangerous situation.”
Water could rise 15 to 20 feet in as quick as 20 minutes, he said, and residents should be prepared to evacuate the area quickly.
“The problem comes when the roadways flood and sometimes, if you’re not ready to go right away, all exits end up blocked,” Lutz said. “We don’t want anyone to lose their life over this.”
Flooding: A regional problem
The flooding this week would be the first event in what is shaping up to be a dangerous spring.
With that in mind, state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, organized the first regional meeting in the state addressing flood mitigation Feb. 12. About 70 local officials came to the event to discuss how the region can better prepare for extreme flooding.
“This past April, we had one of the most damaged areas in the state,” Rezin said. “We thought it made sense to look at the communities and see what we could do better.”
In April, the Morris and Grundy County area flooded so bad it caused Morris Hospital to close its doors for almost two weeks.
The amount of rain caused the Illinois River and the area creeks to flood into city streets, filling some people’s homes with water and stranding many in their houses and cars.
Rezin said part of the problem can be blamed on commercial land development happening in areas north of Grundy County.
“Streams that were never a liability have become huge liabilities in our communities because of the building that’s happening upstream,” Rezin said.
Rezin brought in experts from state agencies to outline possible flood management techniques for local municipal managers.
The consensus, she said, was that flooding will only get worse in the coming years, especially for areas like Grundy County, which houses several major and minor waterways.
“When I’m out and about, that’s what people are talking about,” Rezin said. “With all of the snow we’ve gotten, if we get a quick thaw, what will it do?”
While it is still unclear just how bad the flooding will get, Rezin said she wants to form a regional coalition to proactively work on flood management.
“We feel that by taking a regional approach, it will help us in the long run,” she said. “Not only to help mitigate flood damage, but also to apply for state or federal grants.”
Rezin said Ottawa has developed a successful flood management program, and can be looked to as a model for other municipalities.
The city joined the Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management; participated in a rating program to get city residents flood insurance at the cheapest possible rates; and had one city official become certified as a floodplain manager.
Rezin said local municipalities cannot wait until the flooding starts again, and encourages them to follow Ottawa’s management plan.
The regional coalition is set to meet again in the coming 90 days to further develop a plan of action.
“We have and will continue to have flooding issues and damages unless we are proactive,” Rezin said.