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  3. Office of Water Resources Programs

Office of Water Resources Programs 

General Overview

The Office of Water Resources administers regulatory programs over construction in the floodways of rivers, lakes, and streams; construction in the shorewaters of Lake Michigan; construction and operation of dams; construction in public bodies of water; diversion of water from Lake Michigan; and withdrawal of water from Lake Shelbyville, Carlyle Lake, and Rend Lake. The Office is the lead state agency for water resources planning, navigation, floodplain management, the National Flood Insurance Program, and interstate organizations on water resources. Interagency duties include the state water plan, drought response, flood emergency situation reports, and the comprehensive review of Illinois water use law.

The Office of Water Resources consists of five divisions: Water Resource Planning, Project Implementation, Water Resource Management, Program Development, and Administrative Services. Office personnel operate the William G. Stratton lock and dam on the Fox River, the Sinnissippi Dam on the Rock River, and other state-owned dams or water control facilities. The office sponsors water resources research and operates stream gauging stations, flood gauges, precipitation gauges, and lake water stage recorders in cooperation with federal, state, and local cooperators.


The Division of Water Resource Management, Regulatory Programs

The Division of Water Resource Management is responsible for regulating activities within or adjacent to Illinois rivers, lakes and streams; allocating and monitoring water use from Lake Michigan; coordinating the National Flood Insurance Program; and administering the nonstructural flood mitigation program. 

These responsibilities are carried out through four program sections: 

  • Northeastern Il Regulatory Programs
  • Downstate Regulatory Programs 
  • Statewide Programs 
  • Lake Michigan Programs 

 


NorthEastern Illinois Regulatory Programs

The Northeastern Illinois Regulatory Programs Section is responsible for floodplain management activities in the metropolitan Chicago counties of Cook, Dupage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will. Permits are issued for construction of dams, construction in the floodway of streams and activities in and along public bodies of water. The section administers a program through which local governments are delegated authority to approve construction projects under the state's floodway construction rules. The section assists the Statewide Programs Section in the coordination of the National Flood Insurance Program.


Downstate Regulatory Programs

The Downstate Regulatory Programs Section is responsible for floodplain management activities in the remaining counties. Permits (see Permit Programs) are issued for construction of dams, construction in the floodway of streams and activities in and along public bodies of water. The section assists the Statewide Programs Section in the coordination of the National Flood Insurance Program.


Statewide Programs

The Statewide Programs Section is responsible for non-permit programs that are applicable in all areas of the state. The section is responsible for the nonstructural mitigation program which purchases and removes structures which are repeatedly flooded. The section leads coordination activities for the National Flood Insurance Program. The section coordinates the development of regulatory floodplain mapping and approval of stream discharges used for regulatory programs. The section provides coordination of state assistance to regional stormwater management programs.


Lake Michigan Programs

The Lake Michigan Programs Section is responsible for the management of the state's interests in Lake Michigan. Permits (see Permit Programs) are issued for activities in and adjacent to Lake Michigan. The section also administers the allocation of water from Lake Michigan. The section monitors technical studies and data collection activities related to the lake level and bank erosion and sediment movement in the lake. The section represents the state of Illinois on interstate and international organizations related to Lake Michigan.

The Division provides these services through offices in Chicago, Bartlett and Springfield. Contact the Division as indicated below.


Division of Planning Programs

In addition to its normal functions, the Division of Water Resource Planning gathers water resource data prior to, during and following a flood or other disaster. This data is assembled and disseminated to various state and local agencies. Representatives of the Division act as the Technical Liaison to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and provide daily briefings on flood conditions of monitored streams throughout the state and its boundary waters. In cooperation with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a summary sheet of river stage information is provided.

The primary capital activity of the Office is in the area of urban flood damage reduction. The Office assists units of local government with urban flood damage reduction projects through planning, design, construction, and financial assistance. The urban flood damage reduction program also features the acquisition of flood prone homes and businesses.


Urban Flood Control Assistance Programs

The Office of Water Resources (OWR) receives many requests for assistance to solve urban flooding and other related water resources problems, each of which leads to some category of study or action. Requests for assistance are received either in writing or verbally from a variety of sources, including local citizens and officials from local, State, and Federal levels of government where an investigation is made on each request, and the most efficient and cost effective approach to each solution is selected. The solution to a flood problem can generally be addressed by a private individual or some governmental entity. If the solution is within OWR's authority and capability, a course of action is taken based on the following parameters:

 

  • magnitude of the problem,
  • responsibilities of the various parties involved,
  • feasibility of the solution, and
  • most expeditious solution to the problem.

 

Technical Advice and Referral

OWR reviews each request for assistance to determine if OWR has authority to respond in specific areas. An initial determination may be made that a particular flood problem is beyond the scope of OWR programs (not an urban problem) and it may be referred to a more appropriate agency (Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources Conservation Service, etc.). For instance, if the problem is related to some type of erosion process, it is generally considered the responsibility of the property owner. In such a case, technical advice is provided to the owner to resolve the problem, and where applicable, assistance is requested from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

If the problem involves property or improvements constructed by other state agencies, the problem is referred to those agencies. However, OWR is frequently requested to provide technical assistance to those agencies to solve the problem or produce a multipurpose project to meet both agencies needs.

If the problem is generated as a result of construction activity by a private individual, the solution may be referred to the OWR's Permit Section for enforcement action. An OWR permit is required for work on Illinois streams if a mapped floodway exists at the project site or if the drainage area at the proposed work is greater than 1 sq. mi. in urban/urbanizing areas, or 10 sq. mi. in rural areas.


Study Process

When a request for assistance is received relative to a severe flood problem, it may be addressed through a study process which begins with an initial feasibility determination based on preliminary estimates of flood damages and potential solutions.  This preliminary investigation may be in the form of a Reconnaissance Study in which pertinent, available flood data is collected through field activities including the operation of a modernized water resources data collection network and the acquisition of field survey data to determine whether a Strategic Planning Study is warranted. A Strategic Planning Study can take twelve months or longer to complete and provides an accurate prediction of flood damages and alternative solutions to the flood problem, including average annual benefits and costs associated with each alternative. OWR authority generally requires a favorable Benefit/Cost Ratio (B/C ratio equal or greater than 1.0) to proceed to a Project Planning Study and implementation as a total State project. Strategic Planning Studies are performed inhouse, by consultants, or by cost sharing/coordination with other governmental agencies or entities.

Project Planning Studies are performed in the next phase of the study process. This phase is initiated if the local entity requesting assistance has agreed to be a local sponsor for a selected alternative. (see Criteria for State Participation below) Project Planning Studies are more detailed engineering design studies and are only performed for projects scheduled to be implemented as OWR projects. Environmental reviews and approvals as well as necessary permits are usually secured in this phase of the planning process.

Following the Project Planning Study phase, plans, specifications, permits and appropriation of funds, are the final steps required to bring projects to the implementation/construction phase.


Criteria For State Participation In Flood Control Projects

OWR involvement in a project may be dependent upon the circumstances surrounding the problem, but can generally be defined by the following criteria:

1) Flood damages exist which are related to overbank flooding.

2) Justification must be shown for State Water Resources funds used for a project. (Benefits greater than costs)

3) Each project must have a Local Sponsor(s) (generally a unit of local government).

4) Project Implementation requires an executed local sponsorship agreement. Under this agreement, the local sponsor(s) is responsible for:

 

  • Joining and remaining in good standing in the National Flood Insurance Program
  • Acquiring all necessary land rights for construction, operation, and maintenance of the project;
  • Any utility alterations required for the project
  • Payment of any construction costs above the amount of Water Resources participation;
  • Operation and maintenance of the project upon completion.

 

5) Project planning, environmental coordination, design, preparation of plans and specifications, and overseeing of construction can be done by either the local sponsor(s) or Water Resources if time and personnel are available. Water Resources pays contract bills as the work is completed. Reimbursement is not allowable.


Small Projects

This program provides direct assistance to rural and smaller urban communities statewide to reduce stormwater related flood damages by alleviating localized, significant drainage and flood problems. 

In some cases a solution to a flood problem is readily at hand and a preliminary investigation indicates the potential for a feasible and inexpensive project exists.  In such a case, the actual cost of implementing the improvement does not warrant the expense associated with the formal study process (Reconnaissance Study, Strategic Planning Study, Project Planning Study, etc.). Therefore, the project is implemented with minimum studies and the time interval between the request for assistance and actual implementation can be reduced. However, necessary permits and environmental clearances must still be obtained. The program relies on cooperative utilization of local resources and is limited to $100,000 of Water Resources funds at a single locality.


Self Help Program

If a community has sufficient manpower and equipment to construct a flood control improvement but lacks engineering capability, OWR design assistance can be provided as manpower allows. This generally is in the form of design changes to existing flood control projects to allow for better utilization, or channel modifications within the problem area.  Assistance can also be provided to assist local officials with the necessary expertise to acquire rights-of-way.


Stream Maintenance

OWR assistance can involve project design and construction, with the help of prison labor. OWR can also furnish the chain saws and hand tools required by the prison workers. Subsequent maintenance of the project is the responsibility of the community, which could directly request the assistance of the Department of Corrections in that regard.

This program allows OWR to construct small flood control projects which have no State capital cost component other than manpower and equipment. The benefitting community is required to provide all capital costs associated with the project. OWR provides a one time service to construct or improve an existing facility, thus providing a community with a project within their capabilities to maintain, and one which functions more efficiently and accrues benefits.

Due to current manpower restrictions, OWR participation in Stream Maintenance activities is very limited.


Stream Preservation

OWR is the lead agency for the development and coordination of watershed-wide stream preservation programs for floodwater management plans in Northeastern Illinois, and assumed responsibility for the development of a stream preservation program as a part of the non-structural program of the Chicago Metropolitan River Basin Plans directed at preserving the existing flow capacity of designated stream channels. Stream preservation refers to the management of a stream?s conveyance capacity and can include natural channels and environmental enhancements. It consists of periodic reconnaissance, maintenance, removal of trash and debris, vegetation management, and periodic removal of sediment deposits by local units of government.

OWR works with local communities through Memoranda of Understanding which outline a cooperative approach to stream channels in a community. A handbook has been prepared which describes the program.

As in the Stream Maintenance program, prison workers can be used for the clearing and snagging of streams. The initial stream preservation project work could possibly be arranged for the communities by OWR, with the communities making their own arrangements with Corrections for future stream preservation assistance. 

It includes the following goals and objectives:

 

  • Keep debris, sediment, and restrictive vegetation out of rivers and streams.
  • Convey floodwater safely through each community.
  • Assure that flood control structural measures will perform as planned by maintaining unobstructed inflows and outflows.
  • Provide for annual inspection and maintenance of the key rivers and streams in each watershed.
  • Encourage each community to assume responsibility for maintenance of the stream portion within its jurisdiction.
  • Provide assistance and advice to communities and other regional agencies when needed.
  • Encourage environmental awareness of the general public.

 

The program has been implemented and coordinated through various watershed steering committees and in various Chicago Metro area watersheds.


Local Flood Mitigation Program

OWR provides technical assistance to encourage communities to initiate a variety of flood hazard mitigation activities. This assistance includes site visits to determine the feasibility of a flood control project, manuals and training programs on flood damage prevention and reduction measures, and direct advice on designing, funding and implementing these measures at the local level.

Some flood damage reduction measures, such as a flood warning and flood fighting plan or a floodplain regulations ordinance, can be funded and implemented completely by the community. Others, particularly those that involve acquisition of real estate, can be very expensive and beyond a community's financial ability.

When funded by the General Assembly, OWR can assist a community by implementing certain flood damage reduction projects that are proposed by a local mitigation plan, such as: acquisition of real estate, clearing of publicly owned flood prone property and the restoration of the land to a safe and manageable open space area, elevating or floodproofing of public structures, the purchase of equipment such as a flood warning siren, or the preparation of plans and specifications for eligible projects.


Flood Control Planning

The Flood Control Act of 1945, 615 ILCS 15, gives the Office of Water Resources (OWR) legal authority to participate in the improvement of the rivers of the State for the purpose of regulating and controlling flood and low-water flows. Criteria followed by the Office relating to flood control planning include:

Assurance that the most severely damaged areas receive priority consideration and assistance from State and Federal sources.

 

  • State water resource projects be designed to maximize economic efficiency at minimal environmental impact.
  • State expenditures result in the maximum benefits for the least possible cost.
  • Local interest and investment of funds be required as evidence of involvement in any project.

 

 

OWR, through its regular flood control program and in cooperation with local governmental sponsors, has provided over 5350 acre-feet of floodwater storage in eleven reservoirs, as well as improved channels at numerous locations throughout the Chicago Metropolitan Area.

OWR participates in Federal programs within the legal authority of State Statutes. OWR is an active sponsor, along with other regional and local agencies, of floodwater management plans developed with NRCS, MWRD, and the U.S. Corps of Engineers assistance. Sponsor responsibilities include land acquisition needed for the structural measures and implementation of various non-structural programs and project operations and maintenance.


Contacting Us

Division of Water Resource Planning

  • Technical Assistance
  • Watershed Planning
  • Hydrology and hydraulics
  • Flood damage calculations
  • Cooperation with local communities

Division of Water Resource Management

  • Permits for construction in floodplain/ floodway
  • Dam Safety Permits
  • Floodplain Regulation
  • Flood Insurance Program

 
Division of Project Implementation

  • Operation of McHenry and Sinnissippi Dam
  • Stream Maintenance
  • Project Design

 
Division of Program Development

  • Water Law
  • Navigation
  • Water Supply
  • Capitol Projects
  • Interstate Planning