Study shows source of Urbana flooding

Some residents say report doesn’t include all the reasons for water problems.

But a handful of residents who attended a public meeting said they still believe other factors might have made the flooding worse, and they argued the problem has not been resolved. City officials said the study will allow residents and city staff to move forward now that the cause of the flooding has been identified.

“Now it’s a matter of identifying if there is a way out there to help them,” said Kerry Brugger, director of administration for Urbana.

The study, conducted by CT Consultants, showed the water entering basements and homes in the city’s fourth ward was caused by a high water table, made worse by higher than usual levels of rainfall in 2008 and 2011. Most of the flooding occurred in an area that extends from Gwynne Street in the south to West Light Street in the north and from North Oakland Street to Railroad Street. The majority of homes built in the neighborhood were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s.

The city began receiving complaints about flooding as early as 2006, but the number of complaints increased significantly in 2008 and 2011. In 2012, Urbana’s city council approved a $7,400 study, which was conducted by the Floyd Browne Group, an engineering firm with offices in Delaware and Columbus in Ohio. The Floyd Browne Group has since merged with another engineering firm called CT Consultants, also based in Ohio.

Residents have previously pointed to several possibilities for flooding, which was reported in more than a dozen homes in the ward. Among them, some residents questioned a storm sewer project that was completed around the time the flooding occurred. They also questioned whether there may have been more surface water contributing to the problem due to the construction of housing developments in the neighborhood.

Georgia Roberts, whose home on Pindar Street was flooded, said she is still skeptical about the report and whether residents will get any help in the future.

“Where do we go from here?” Roberts said. “It’s the same problem.”

Paul Stevens, who lives on Hagenbuch Street, pointed out that he’s lived in his home for more than 40 years and never had any problems with flooding until recently.

But any additional water from surface runoff or from the city’s sanitary sewer project would have been unlikely to cause the kinds of flooding residents saw in recent years, said Mac McCauley, a project manager for the consulting firm. The water entering basements was cold and clean, and was therefore not due to sanitary sewer back-ups. It was also free of chlorine, which means it is unlikely it was from a city water source.

As part of its study, the firm reviewed well data from the former Fox River Paper Mill, which recorded groundwater levels near the neighborhood as far back as 1977. Although the groundwater fluctuates, the data showed it reached its highest level in 34 years of records in 2011, a year when the city received much more rain than in previous years. For example, from February 2011 to May 2011, the city received almost 29 inches of rain, 16 inches more than the city’s average. In 2009 and 2010, years where there was less rain, the city received fewer complaints about flooding from residents, McCauley said.

As the water table rose, it poured into basements throughout the neighborhood. The report also showed the homes most affected were those located at the lowest elevations in the neighborhood.

The purpose of the report was not to identify solutions, McCauley said, but to determine why the flooding was occurring. Still, the report did consider some possible solutions, including installing wells to pump water from the area if it exceeded certain levels, or installing drainage tile below the ground water table and discharging it into the existing storm sewer system. However, those solutions would be costly and not viable, according to the report.

Instead, the report suggested residents affected should prepare for possible flooding in the future by installing sump pump systems and caulking and sealing basement floors. In finished basements, another option would be for residents to build an addition onto their homes to mitigate the problem.

For residents like Roberts, those options are little consolation.

“We don’t know what to do,” she said.

Copies of the report will be made available at the city municipal building or online at the city’s web site.

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