What a Massive Flood Does To Chicago’s Infrastructure

There’s chaos on Chicago’s streets, but it’s even worse underneath them. This much rain is bad news for a sewer system still in progress after 40 years.

Photo: nancy stone/Chicago Tribune

Chicago’s received almost five inches of rain in the past day and a half. That’s almost twice what the city got all last April. And it’s causing chaos: closed interstates, flooded streets, and at Houston and 96th, a massive sinkhole that consumed three cars:

The sinkhole is the result of a water main that broke in the area and is gushing water, said Tom LaPorte, a spokesman for the Water Department. The weather and the intense rain could have aggravated a water main made from cast iron that takes back to 1915, he said. Officials aren’t certain of the cause some of the factors being looked at is the age of the main and weather conditions.

Meanwhile, on the north side at Lawrence and Ravenswood:

Update: Here’s a better one, via Dan Sinker.

The city has 4,500 miles of water mains, 900 of which are more than a century old; in recent years, it’s been replaced at 30–35 miles a year. The Emanuel administration has pushed to increase that to 88 miles a year, and as a result, water bills have gone up. If it makes you feel any better, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives America’s water and sewage infrastructure (almost all state and local) a D, up from a D- in 2009.

Things aren’t going much better with the water you can’t see. Deep Tunnel—the world-historical underground drainage ditch that’s still uncompleted after four decades and three billion dollars—is full with 2.3 billion gallons of water, more than twice as much as Chicagoans use every day. Here’s what Chicago’s Combined Sewer Overflow Map looks like today.

As compared to yesterday:

(Combined sewers collect all of a city’s wastewater, from toilets to rain to industrial wastewater, into one system, “a great idea, with one catch: when too much stormwater is added to the flow of raw sewage, the result is frequently an overflow.”)

Fortunately, there’s hope. We’ll finish Deep Tunnel—legally, we have to—by 2029.

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