Preventing Floods and Protecting Homeowners

Elmwood Park undertook its biggest infrastructure project yet to reduce the risk of future floods

By Shea Costales


After a catastrophic flood in 2011 left residents angry and faced with costly repairs to their homes and property, the Village of Elmwood Park decided a major infrastructure change was needed. Local agencies worked together to design and enact The Elmwood Park Flood Mitigation Project, a two-year, $35 million endeavor that sought to ensure greater protection for village residents and the environment.

The magnitude of this project (the largest public infrastructure project ever undertaken by the Village) demanded the cooperation of many different entities to reach success. CBBEL, an Illinois-based full-service engineering company, developed the six-phase Village’s Flood Mitigation Plan and worked closely with Bolder Contractors, DiMeo Brothers, Inc., John Neri Construction, and Cerniglia Co. to address the major flooding issues on schedule and within budget. They were also assisted by the support of key stakeholders, including the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Department of Transportation, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and the Oak Park Country Club.

The Oak Park Country Club offered part of their land to house the detention reservoir.

The project plan developed by CBBEL required the installation of new storm sewers, but their large size combined with the lack of public space in which to place them became an insurmountable issue. Thankfully, the Oak Park Country Club (OPCC) stepped in and offered their land as a location.

CBBEL said, “The agreement afforded an easement in which the Village was able to construct large diameter storm sewers, a 14 acre-foot detention reservoir, and 150 cubic-feet per second storm water pumping station within the OPCC property. As a result, OPCC was able to reap the benefit of also utilizing the system to reduce golf course flooding that had long plagued a number of their golf holes. With the cooperation of OPCC, these new storm sewers will collect stormwater runoff and convey it to the newly constructed detention reservoir.”

Water temporarily held at the reservoir will then be conveyed to the Des Plaines River, its historical outlet, instead of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District treatment plant. This reduces plant operational costs and lowers energy consumption, and provides beneficial environmental additions to the river habitat.

Even after selecting the OPCC site for the project, the construction was not without challenges. After discovering that utility company Nicor Gas was conducting their own high-pressure main replacement project, both teams coordinated to make sure their efforts disturbed the public as little as possible by working concurrently. During trench excavations, sandy soils and running sand were encountered, requiring the contractor to erect temporary shoring systems to keep workers safe. They were able to complete the work without incident.

Nearly a quarter of the Village’s roads were resurfaced as an additional benefit to residents.

Following its completion in 2015, The Elmwood Park Flood Mitigation Project was named by APWA as the 2017 Public Works Project of the Year in the environment category for projects between $25 million and $75 million. CBBEL attributes this success to the positive collaboration between so many local entities. They said, “CBBEL is incredibly proud of our work on the Elmwood Park Flood Mitigation Project, not only because of the meaningful change this project means for so many Elmwood Park residents, but because of the ancillary improvements and benefits possible because of this project, including the environmental considerations and public works upgrades.”

Village residents, too, were extremely happy with the work completed. The construction of a 1,500 lineal foot floodwall will prevent future flooding of the Des Plaines River, removing “flood plain” status for over 60 residences, and relieving them from the need to purchase expensive flood insurance.

Successful completion of the project relieved the fear of flooding and burden of flood insurance for over 60 homes.

As an added plus, the project resulted in the installation of 40,000 feet of new storm sewer pipe, a quarter of the overall system. CCBEL adds, “Taking advantage of the open streets, the Village was also able to replace 20,000 feet of antiquated water mains, providing greater volume of water to many residents while also replacing mains that were prone to breaks. New fire hydrants, water valves and more than 700 new water service lines were also completed. Additionally, nearly a quarter of the Village roads were reconstructed or resurfaced with new curbs/gutters and upgraded pedestrian facilities to meet ADA standards.”

Elmwood Park has yet to experience a storm as big as the one that caused flooding in 2011, but city officials are confident that if and when they do, the effects of the new systems will be noticeable. Elmwood Park Village Manager Paul Volpe said, “I know that when portions of the project were completed, when it rained, the village experienced a difference.”

Shea Costales is an Assistant Editor for American Infrastructure Magazine. She can be reached at