Flash floods that closed roads and delayed the start of the school year in Granite City are being blamed on the perfect storm: torrential rain, an outdated and inadequate storm drainage system, and political finger pointing.
A thunderstorm dropped between 5 and 7 inches of rain on the central and northern areas of Granite City Sunday night and into Monday morning, flooding the city and turning its roads into waterways. The southern part of the city received roughly 4 inches of rain.
“There was a deluge of water in a short time and the area couldn’t drain fast enough,” Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler said. “It was storm on top of storm.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Jared Maples said the type of rain event Madison County experienced is known as “training,” when several rain systems move over the same area in a short period of time.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned on the newly installed Chouteau Nameoki Venice Drainage District pump early Tuesday to relieve the flooded areas near I-270, Illinois Route 3 and around Mitchell Road. All other pumps, Prenzler said, were running and doing what they were intended to do.
Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer said Wednesday the entire city is in a critical state after the strange weather pattern. He said the city’s drainage systems were simply “overwhelmed.”
“The critical area is almost citywide, we’ve had some issues throughout, he said. “We just could not handle this. It seemed like that storm sat on top of us for 3 and a half hours.”
Hagnauer said the city’s drainage system is set up to handle a 3- or 4-inch rain system at a maximum and in this case, the system couldn’t keep up.
“It was just overwhelmed, it just could not handle it,” he said. “That’s not to say we won’t find issues because there are issues out there and once this is done and once we get our people helped we’ll sit down and critique this situation.”
He said, currently, many residents are dealing with 2-3 inches of backed up sewage in their homes and some residents have had to leave their homes altogether. The city officially applied for a natural disaster declaration through Illinois Emergency Management Agency Wednesday.
Prenzler said drainage issues have been prominent in the area for decades.
“The past couple of years Metro East Sanitary District worked to make improvements in the system,” Prenzler said. “The level of Horseshoe Lake was lowered to increase water storage capacity and the ditches and canals were cleaned out to improve the flow of stormwater.”
Prenzler recently lobbied local legislators for funding of stormwater and drainage projects to be placed in the state’s capital bill. He said this week’s flooding proves their necessity.
“To date, these projects have not been funded,” he said. “This weather event shows just how much they are needed.”
Blame also has been directed toward the MESD itself, which some county officials chalked up to politics.
The Edwardsville Intelligencer reported that, at a Monday meeting of the Metro East Sanitary District, county board member Mike Parkinson, D-Granite City, blamed the flooding on lack of action by the agency.
Steve Adler, executive director of MESD, said the flooding wasn’t due to lack of action, but because of complicated infrastructure. He said older sections of the city have to joint sewer systems that drain to the city’s water treatment plant.
“It’s about engineering; it’s not about politics,” he said. “They have a narrative they’re trying to portray, and the truth has little to do with it.”
MESD leadership remains in flux since Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that changes the board’s appointing process. The legislation calls for Hagnauer on the MESD board. The district previously has been known for patronage hiring practices, Adler has said.
The extent of the damage throughout the city varied, ranging from flooded basements to the local high school, where the damage was severe enough to delay the start of school to Monday, Aug. 19. Classes were scheduled to begin Thursday.
Superintendent James Greenwald said the decision to delay the first day of school for the district focused on the safety of students and staff members.
“We did not want kids coming in tomorrow or Friday just for the sake of rushing school to start,” he said. “(They’d be) stepping over hoses and a lot of the dehumidifiers and fans are really noisy.”
Most of the rain damage was at Granite City High School and are short-term issues, Greenwald said. Roughly 10 classrooms at Coolidge Junior High took on water which resulted in damaged ceiling tiles, fallen insulation and more.
Greenwald said after meeting with the district’s grounds crew and a restoration crew that will help with cleanup, he’s confident the school will be ready by Monday.
Hagnauer said if individuals are looking to assist the town, they can contact city hall, any city department or local churches to find out ways to help.