The rains came

The rains came

Water — not enough of it or too much — is something people don't think much about until it's too late.

Last weekend's storms serve as a reminder — if one were needed — of the damage and inconvenience caused by heavy rain in a short period of time.

Basements were flooded and sanitary sewers backed up, leaving homeowners with a depressing mess on their hands and, in at least one case, forcing the evacuation of apartment dwellers to new housing. But the problem was not universal.

In Campustown — the site of many floods in days of yore — there were no problems because the excess water drained into Healey Street detention area and the Boneyard Creek Second Street basin.

The lesson is obvious: those areas that are prepared, from an engineering perspective, for heavy rain are relatively safe from flooding while those that are not will suffer from a multitude of problems.

That is why legislation awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature is so important. It expands projects eligible for financial assistance through a state-run revolving loan fund to include municipal storm water projects. The legislation also allows more types of water pollution control projects to qualify for assistance including storm-water runoff and treatment systems as well as industrial waste systems.

This is not an issue that garners much public attention — unless there's a problem. But it's a serious issue nonetheless, one that cannot go unaddressed. That this legislation passed the Illinois House and Senate without opposition and will be signed by Quinn testifies to the bipartisan interest in the issue.

The so-called clean-water initiative was first proposed by Quinn in 2012 when he made $1 billion available for use by the state's Environmental Protection Agency in a low-interest revolving loan fund. In 2014, he announced plans to add another $1 billion.

The fund is self-sustaining because loan money repaid by communities is available to be re-lent to other communities.

However, the demand is overwhelming. In Champaign alone, the city has $80 million in projects on the drawing board. It already has borrowed from the revolving loan fund, helping to finance work on sanitary sewers in the Kenwood neighborhood and a John Street project affecting both sanitary and storm sewers.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and chief sponsor of the legislation, acknowledged that there is "absolutely more demand than there is a supply of funds."

"I think everyone recognizes we need to be working on projects that alleviate this problem," she said.

This is the kind of state/local partnership that brings real benefits to the public. More projects can get done at lower costs, creating jobs, easing or eliminating problems caused by big rains and upgrading water quality.

Once Gov. Quinn signs this legislation, it's incumbent on the state EPA to move with dispatch in implementing the important changes the law makes. The state had issued more than $3 billion in low-interest loans since creating the revolving fund in 1988, so much has been done. Much more, however, remains to be done in the face of more storm clouds lurking on the horizon.

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