Illinois saw firsthand the havoc flooding creates for people, property, communities and infrastructure in December and early January, after the Midwest experienced several days of heavy rain. Rivers became lakes, levees broke, property and infrastructure were severely damaged or wiped away, and worse, several people were killed.
While our area dodged much of the heavy rain that caused these floods, it’s not a matter of “if we will have another flood,” but “when we will have another flood.”
Consider this: The state of Illinois has the largest collection of inland bodies of water and rivers in the continental United States. Twelve percent of surface in Illinois is mapped as a flood plain. My 38th Senate District, which stretches from Bureau County on the west to Will County on the east, has about 130 miles worth of river frontage, one of the most in the state. Ottawa alone is the watershed for 12,000 square miles.
Flooding is serious and it requires a serious approach to prevent losses of property, infrastructure and life. Several years ago, a number of communities along the Illinois and Fox Rivers lived the hardships that come with severe flooding. Many of our neighborhoods, businesses and infrastructure were destroyed. The Morris Hospital had to close. Thousands of lives were impacted, property was lost, tokens of precious memories were gone forever, and infrastructure had to be rebuilt. The flood in 2013 cost LaSalle and Grundy Counties alone more than $150 million.
That’s why after that flood, my office teamed up with local leaders across the 38th Senate District and started the Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance. The IVFRA brings communities, local governments, and emergency personnel together to prepare for extreme weather events, especially floods, through education, communication, and the purchasing of flood prevention materials. The IVFRA includes LaSalle, Grundy, Bureau and Putnam counties. The IVFRA already has good resiliency plans in place right now for the region. The IVFRA is also hoping to soon secure grant funding for communities to help prevent flood losses.
Towns in my district have also been working on flood damage prevention ordinances that would fit their specific needs. As a direct result of the IVFRA, there are also now 24 new Certified Floodplain Managers in my district.
The IVFRA is already receiving statewide and national exposure – first, from the Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management, and also from the Association of State Flood Plain Managers. The City of Ottawa also received $25,000 in the “Solutions Search” national contest seeking ways to reduce the risk of weather-related disasters in communities, especially flooding.
All this is proof that our efforts in the 38th District, particularly the IVFRA, are doing great things and can be a model for other river communities. Having local flood-fighting experts, the newest flood-fighting materials, and having each community on the same page will go a long way the next time rivers start to rise. It will also save local governments, municipalities and people a lot of money.
The goal is simple: be prepared now and know how to properly fight flooding, so when our next flood occurs, we can save lives, property, homes and infrastructure.
I am very happy our communities are taking a proactive approach, so we can prevent what happened in 2013.
• State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, represents Bureau, Grundy, LaSalle, Kendall, Livingston, Putnam, and Will counties in the Illinois Senate.