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Flooding at issue for Morris, more in Kankakee River basin

Threats of flash flooding, evacuations and icy conditions are among the issues raised for communities in the Kankakee River basin, officials said.

The topic of flooding surfaced amid warnings for recent subzero weather when an ice jam formed along the Kankakee River near Wilmington.

Officials for the cities of Morris, Ottawa and Kankakee took time to weigh in on flood management efforts.

“The power plant got permission to pump warm water from their cooling lake into the river to melt the ice,” Neil Piggush, who handles engineering for the city of Kankakee, said about the recent ice jam near Wilmington.

However, the ice jams near the villages of St. Anne and Aroma Park remain intact, officials said.

Piggush said the Kankakee officials are doing their part to stay on top of flooding concerns.

“We monitor it within the city limits,” he said.

The city of Kankakee tends to experience flooding along the south side of Cobb Boulevard, the lower Riverview area and Water Street on the south side of the Kankakee River.

“The city has a floodplain ordinance to encourage people to not develop in the map’s floodway areas,”Piggush said. “The reality of the situation is it’s an old town that has a lot of old structures. We try to be proactive with disseminating public information, making people aware of the situation of flooding, and making them aware of the resources they have available to them through the emergency management agency.”

Joe Schroeder, director of the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency, said the ice jams along the Kankakee River did not present much issue for Grundy County.

“They did this year only because they released or broke free,” he said. “We had watch to a lot closer, but it didn’t create any issues with the Grundy County side. Once that ice goes through the Dresden Lock and Dam, then it makes its way to the Illinois River, which by that time was open water.”

Bob Coleman, fire marshal for the city of Morris, shared that sentiment.

“We don’t have many issues from the ice jams in the Kankakee River here in Morris, other than the Stratton Park flooding and closing of the park for a few days,” he said. “That’s all the problem we really have other than low-laying areas along the Illinois River. They flood anyway. That backs up south of the river.”

Coleman urges the public not to drive through the park out of concern for safety and said the water is up to the road.

The city of Morris commonly takes a number of precautions to help with flood management.

“When they build new, they get above the flood stage,” Coleman said.

The way Morris handles flood management has changed over time, officials said.

“Before, when the rivers came up, they’d have to take the pumps out,” Coleman said.

Mike Sutfin, a building and zoning official for the city of Ottawa, said the city did take precautions after learning of the Kankakee River ice jams near Wilmington.

“We watched it very carefully when it broke up,” he said. “It came through Ottawa. It’s gone. It’s passed off without incident. Downstream, now they’re going to have problems down there in Peoria, Beardstown and all that. You’ll see that there’s some serious flooding about to occur. There’s some serious ice jamming going on downstream.”

The city of Ottawa has taken steps over the years to purchase certain property to restrict development to open space, which Sutfin said they’ve had great success with.

“Recently, the Illinois State Water Survey from the university did a study, and over the last 20 years, we’ve invested about $4.2 billion in mitigation efforts, buying out property,” he said. “What we have done is saved our taxpayers $9.5 million in flood losses.”

Sutfin said the city takes pride in its flood management efforts.

“We have an organization here called the Illinois Valley Flood Rezoning Team Alliance,” he said “We started in 2013 after the record flood. Sen. Sue Rezin is the one who started this. She has been championing the cause since 2013. It’s made a huge difference.”