Champaign's chronic flooding issues have gotten a lot of attention in the past few years: severe storms in the latter half of the past decade plagued some residents' properties until they asked city officials to do something about it.
It worked. Last year, the city council signed off on $25 million worth of drainage projects to improve capacity in the Boneyard Creek and the city's storm water sewers.
But Assistant City Engineer Eleanor Blackmon said most residents won't notice a difference this spring. The first phase of improvements -- widening a storm sewer underneath John Street between Neil Street to just west of State Street -- happened last year. But that only tackled drainage problems in a limited area.
The next steps -- widening the rest of that storm sewer from State Street to roughly Willis Avenue -- will begin in May, and that is the project that will really begin to tackle flooding in those neighborhoods.
Blackmon said the city building has received reports of "minor to moderate" flooding in some neighborhoods, but nothing yet nearly as severe as past years. "Although it seems like it's been rainy forever at this point," she said, Champaign has not gotten any extended, intense storms. The existing storm water drainage system can typically handle long periods of light rain or very short periods of heavy rain, both of which are what have been occurring in Champaign during the past couple weeks. The trouble starts when the rain is very heavy for a longer period of time.
Jim Creighton lives in what is known as the Washington Street West watershed. The west-central Champaign area is on the list for drainage improvements, but because of a dwindling capacity for capital projects, storm water projects there are still at least a few years out.
"I woke up yesterday morning to the sound of my sump pump and about a foot of water in the basement," Creighton said on Wednesday.
Creighton is the resident who got some momentum going when he went out -- during a flood -- knocking on his neighbors' doors. Cell phone in hand, he asked each of them to call the city. Since then, he's been very active working with the city as officials sort through the flooding problems.
"We're pretty saturated out here," but flooding in his area has not been extreme this spring -- so far. It will still be months before residents' basements are safe in the John Street watershed and years before Creighton's basement in the Washington Street West watershed will be kept dry.