Skokie, known as Niles Center until 1940, was originally a small farm community. The Skokie sewer system was constructed in the 1920's and was designed to carry both sanitary flows and storm water runoff to the water treatment plant with overflows to the North Shore Channel during heavy rainstorms.
The system was more than adequate for a small rural community; however, modern Skokie, developed by the post-war housing boom and the construction of the first interstate highway out of Chicago, altered the above-ground landscape and created a storm water runoff control problem. After a heavy rainstorm, Skokie's storm water receded too quickly and overwhelmed the sewer system. This created back up of combined sewage in basements throughout the Village, presenting both a health hazard and threats of property damage.
Storm Water Relief Task Force
A Storm Water Relief Task Force was organized in the early 1980's. Their challenge was to find a system to control storm water runoff. The task force's research showed that a traditional solution to storm water runoff problems included separating storm and sanitary sewers or the installation of large sewers to carry storm water away from the Village to a reservoir, tunnel, or lake.
Unfortunately, the cost of implementing these solutions in Skokie would have exceeded $160 million (1980 dollars). At that time Skokie's annual budget was about $30 million. Disappointed but determined to find a solution, the Village Board hired an engineering consulting firm to develop a more workable and affordable solution.
After research and analysis, the Village and its engineering consulting firm determined that the most effective program consisted of a four-phase engineering process that would eventually lead to the reduction of sewer system overload and water surcharge into homes and businesses. The phases of the project involved an engineering review of all building and sewer elevations, sewer capacity, street-ponding and alternative storm water detention areas. The resulting program was a highly engineered storm water runoff system that complements the natural flow of water (through the laws of gravity) by altering street elevations and adding water detention areas where necessary.
The Village also adopted four ordinances specifically designed to control storm water runoff. The first ordinance required all redevelopment projects (Old Orchard, Village Crossing, etc.) to contain storm water in a manner that will not adversely impact surrounding properties. The second ordinance required the disconnection of all downspouts from household sewer lines. The Village determined that approximately 30% of the rain in the Village falls on roof tops. When downspouts are disconnected from the house drains, this high volume of water is released onto grassy areas and parkways and diverted from the sewer system. The third ordinance requires overhead sewers in all new residential construction. Finally, in 2001, the Village Board adopted an ordinance which requires an engineering drainage plan for all new residences as well as large additions to existing residences.