LAKEWOOD – When Lakewood resident Shari Ledermann woke up to find her basement filled with more than 5 feet of brown sewage and stormwater, the problem caught her by surprise.
Ledermann wanted answers – as did more than 100 people who attended the Lakewood Village Board meeting Tuesday – so she and others asked village trustees to help find short- and long-term solutions for sewage backup and severe flooding problems.
Ledermann never expected flooding would reach her home, in the 300 block of Wittshire Lane, which is why she began to panic when 2 inches of water filled her basement about two weeks ago. Her worries dissipated with the water in a matter of days but returned when another 5 inches of water arrived after another storm.
After contacting the village and being told the pumps were running, Ledermann prayed the problem would stop there. However, on Monday morning the water level in her basement rose to the second step from the top.
The power was cut off, and the majority of Ledermann’s basement appliances were completely submerged, including her air conditioner, water heater, washer and dryer. The damage is difficult to quantify until the water begins going down, she said.
“I’m begging you to do something because I don’t have the means to fix the sewers,” Ledermann said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I just can’t believe this is an issue, and that it’s just OK, I guess, that for years that the sewer winds up in people’s basements.”
The frustrated residents packed against the walls of the board meeting room at RedTail Golf Club, spending about two hours pleading for Lakewood trustees to help them find solutions to what several described as a flooding crisis in their homes.
Like Ledermann, other residents have become desperate for help after weekend storms resulted in flooding that destroyed portions of their basements and yards. As a result, sewage water has poured from sinks, toilets, showers and bathtubs in homes to the point where some residents deemed their homes uninhabitable.
The National Weather Service estimated between 1 and 2 inches of rain pelted McHenry County during Sunday night’s storm. High water pressure flooded through the pipes until valves and pumps were overwhelmed, causing many to malfunction, village engineers said.
The weekend storms resulted in flooding that overloaded both the village’s storm and sanitary sewer systems, engineers said, causing some residents to call on neighboring Crystal Lake to help.
Emotional accounts of the disaster shared at Tuesday night’s meeting established a consensus among residents that immediate relief was necessary for families who are unable to sleep under their own roofs, but trustees were unable to offer little in the way of relief for those hit the hardest – particularly houses in The Gates subdivision.
Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka encouraged residents to document damage assessments for their properties to help with claims in the event that a natural disaster is declared, while agreeing to residents’ request to call Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley and ask the sister city for help.
Village officials noted, however, the most effective way to seek assistance from Crystal Lake would be asking the city’s own residents living along the lake for help in applying pressure to the city’s leadership.
Otherwise, solutions for Lakewood’s problem were few and far between as corrective and improvement measures to the villages’s storm and sanitary sewer systems cannot take place until after the water stops coming.
“This board will not ignore this problem, and that I promise you,” Serwatka said.
As new homeowners, Lucy and Kerris Lee heard little hope in the village’s remarks as their way of life remains unhinged.
The Lees woke up Saturday morning to about 5 inches of sewage water seeping from their basement pipes.
They eventually tore up a majority of the floor and parts of the drywall to create a channel for the water to travel toward their two sump pumps, which have been running nonstop and are supported with a backup generator for power outages.
In the Lees’ backyard, an old tree began uprooting from saturation and eventually fell onto their neighbor’s property against another large tree, which kept the falling tree from causing damage to their neighbor’s home. Tree removers billed them $7,000 to remove the mess, which Lucy said was a discounted rate.
Lucy, 33, asked her parents to drive up from Southern Illinois and take her two boys, 7 and 9, away from their infested home while she and her husband stayed with neighbors and family and focused their energies on resolving the situation.
“It’s a hard thing to explain when you didn’t go through it that day, when it was chaotic and we were running from house to house,” Lee said. “I haven’t been sleeping through the nights. I’ll wake up crying not just because our home, but the fact that we can’t see our kids, and financially, it’s a burden.”
Rainfall has not exactly been kind to Crystal Lake residents, either.
An estimated 1.3 inches of rain fell in a little more than an hour during Sunday’s storm, resulting in about 4,000 homes and businesses losing power, according to a city news release. Counting that storm, the amount of rainfall in the city during June and July has climbed to about 20 inches, more than double the annual average.
The city has begun taking storm relief efforts to clear away debris and offer resources to residents affected by flooding and storm damage. The Public Works Department also will begin picking up storm-related debris from residents’ curbs starting about 7 a.m. Thursday and is offering additional brush drop off on Saturday.
“We have a number of resources available,” Crystal Lake public works director Michael Magnuson said. “Residents have been contacting us, and we have reached out to residents to help provide them with resources, ask them questions and assist where we can.”
Magnuson said Lakewood homes previously were hooked up to the Crystal Lake sanitary sewer service until 2013, when former Village Manager Catherine Peterson authorized disconnecting the homes in favor of building its own sanitary sewer system, according to city documents.
The city had proposed a new usage agreement that asked Lakewood to pay for the sanitary sewer based on usage, the same way Crystal Lake residents paid for it, records show. Lakewood declined and officially disconnected on Oct. 10, 2016.
Had the proposed agreement been adopted, the village would have only paid for conveyance and treatment of sewage it was sending to Crystal Lake’s system, records show.
Shepley said Wednesday afternoon he spoke with Serwatka and explained that the ongoing flooding in Crystal Lake neighborhoods, although not a sanitary sewer system issue as in Lakewood, leaves little wiggle room for the city to pull resources away from its own residents.
During recent rain showers, one of the city’s wastewater treatment plants had been treating water at a rate of 20.6 million gallons a day, about five times its average rate of 4.2 million gallons. The treatment rate had dipped Wednesday to about 9 million gallons a day, still double the normal rate, Magnuson said.
Although Shepley said that Crystal Lake would be open to helping Lakewood with its flooding problems, the city is unable to help until it can solve its own problems.
“Our city staff was directed by our city manager to evaluate the feasibility of helping Lakewood because certainly nobody likes to see a neighbor suffer,” Shepley said. “But our first focus now and always will be upon the residents of Crystal Lake because, as you know, we’re under water too.”
Until that time comes – if it ever does – Lakewood residents are leaning on each other for support and asking neighbors to refrain from unnecessary water usage, including avoiding shows and flushing toilets. Affected residents also are asking their neighbors not to run their washing machines.
“No one wants to add to the mess because you know it’s going to the next neighborhood,” Lucy Lee said.
Overnight storms expected to begin after 10 p.m. Wednesday could bring as much as another half an inch of rain to the area, according to the National Weather Service, and morning and afternoon showers are in Thursday’s forecast.
With nowhere to go and no immediate relief expected from the village, Lakewood neighbors are banding together and taking matters into their own hands to help one another in a time of crisis.
“We’re all out here trying to figure out how we can direct the flooding with sandbags on our own,” Lucy Lee said. “Calling around to farmers and whoever can help take this water out with their tanks. Just trying to figure out the next step as neighbors, people who took off work, to find solutions together.”
Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect the damage caused to Lucy and Kerris Lee's home. The Northwest Herald regrets the error.