Like many other cities, Chicago has a combined sewer system that moves rainwater and wastewater in the same pipes. So heavy rains can overwhelm the system, flooding residents’ basements with untreated sewage.
Burns: “It’s just horrifying.”
Lori Burns is a lifelong resident of the city’s South Side.
Burns: “There’s a drain in the shower and water would be bubbling up from there, and then when the storms are really bad, the toilet would back up. So instead of the water going down and out of your house, it’s coming back through the toilet.”
As the climate changes and the Midwest gets more heavy rains, improving city infrastructure will be critical. But homeowners can also take action.
The nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology helped Burns plant a rain garden in her yard.
Burns: “We planted native species that have very, very deep roots so they are able to take up all of that rainwater that’s coming off the roof, and then you’ve got a beautiful garden that you and other critters of nature can enjoy.”
She also installed a backwater valve between her sewer line and the city’s. When the sewers are full of water during a storm, the valve shuts.
Burns: “It’s kept my basement dry ever since.”
Reporting credit: Rachel Gulbraa/ChavoBart Digital Media.