Building resilient communities

The MWRD’s countywide Stormwater Management Program’s mission is to provide Cook County with effective rules, regulations and capital improvement projects that will reduce the potential for stormwater damage to life, public health, safety, property and the environment.

For years, stormwater management in Cook County was a patchwork of efforts by local, regional, state and federal agencies. Then in November of 2004, the Illinois General Assembly enacted Public Act 93-1049, allowing for the creation of a comprehensive stormwater management program in Cook County under the supervision of the MWRD. The Act required the MWRD to develop the Cook County Stormwater Management Plan (CCSMP), which provides the framework for the stormwater management program. This includes the program’s mission, goals and program elements. The MWRD’s Board of Commissioners adopted the plan in February of 2007.

With the adoption of the CCSMP and the implementation of the MWRD’s countywide stormwater management program, Cook County now has the means to address a range of stormwater management issues through proper watershed regulations and watershed planning.

Under this plan, the MWRD established Watershed Planning Councils and completed Detailed Watershed Plans for all six major watersheds in Cook County; initiated a Stormwater Management Capital Improvement Program; initiated a Small Streams Maintenance Program; and adopted and implemented the Watershed Management Ordinance (WMO).

The CCSMP was amended in July of 2014 to be consistent with P.A. 98-0652, which grants the MWRD authority to acquire flood-prone properties and to plan, implement, finance and operate local stormwater management projects. The MWRD entered into a Consent Decree with the Environmental Protection Agency in January 2014, which prompted establishment of the Green Infrastructure Program. Additionally, the Infiltration/Inflow Control Program was incorporated into the WMO in 2014. Through a variety of engineered solutions, both green and gray, and flood-prone property acquisitions, the MWRD’s Stormwater Management Program addresses both regional and local flooding problems throughout Cook County.

The MWRD has made significant investments in developing over 100 capital stormwater projects since it assumed the authority for stormwater management in 2004. These projects, which range in both size and scope, provide flood protection for thousands of homes, businesses and critical infrastructure. We’re also currently completing design or construction of large regional stormwater projects throughout the county. In addition, we have dozens of active partnerships through intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) with local governmental organizations to address local flooding through the use of green and gray infrastructure improvements, as well as through the acquisition of flood-prone residential structures. 

Click here to read about some of our more recent stormwater projects. To learn more about our Stormwater Management Program and its many other projects, download our “Stormwater Management Program 2018 Annual Report.”

Region-wide streambank and flood control projects

The Watershed Planning Councils represent communities located within major watersheds in Cook County. They communicate the needs and interests of the members of the public and local governments to the MWRD. The six watershed planning councils include: Cal-Sag Channel, Little Calumet River, Lower Des Plaines River, Poplar Creek, Upper Salt Creek and the North Branch of the Chicago River.  


The Stormwater Management Program’s detailed watershed plans identified and prioritized “regional” stormwater projects for each of the six watersheds based on a benefit to cost ratio. Projects were identified into two categories:

  • Streambank stabilization projects address critical active streambank erosion threatening public safety, structures and/or infrastructure.
  • Flood control projects address regional overbank flooding through traditional measures such as stormwater detention reservoirs, levees and conveyance improvements.

The Board of Commissioners has approved over 30 regional projects for design and construction, many of which have already been completed.

Click here for the 2019 Watershed Planning Council meetings and agendas.  


Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP)

One of the largest projects the MWRD’s has ever undertaken is its Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), or “Deep Tunnel,” which is also one of the country’s largest public works projects for pollution and flood control. TARP is a system of deep, large diameter tunnels and vast reservoirs designed to reduce flooding, improve water quality in Chicago area waterways and protect Lake Michigan from pollution caused by sewer overflows. TARP captures and stores combined stormwater and sewage that would otherwise overflow from sewers into waterways in rainy weather. This stored water is pumped from TARP to water reclamation plants to be cleaned before being released to waterways. Click here for more information about TARP.

Help reduce or alleviate flooding in and around your home, school or business

Residents can do their part to help the MWRD manage stormwater and help improve water quality in the process.

  • Consider using green infrastructure such as rain barrels, cisterns, green roofs, rain gardens, permeable paving and natural landscaping to capture excess stormwater.

Stormwater can be stored in rain barrels to be conserved and reused for other purposes while preventing rain runoff from entering the sewer system.

  • Disconnect downspouts from the public storm sewer system.

Reduction of stormwater flow into sewers reduces the amount of flow discharged into waterways and can help to alleviate flood damages from occurring due to overbank flooding.

  • Residents living near waterways should take extra care to remove debris on their property, which could wind up in the waterway. Yard waste should be properly disposed of and not dumped into or along the banks of creeks or streams.

Branches, bushes and other debris cause blockages at culverts and bridges which can cause flood damages for you and your neighbors.

For more helpful tips and resources, click here. 

Help keep our waterways free of debris. If you see debris or obstructions in the waterways, notify us immediately. Call our Citizen Incident Reporting (CIR) hotline at 1-800-332-3867. You can also report the incident online via our CIR form.

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