Local Government

Official: Fox River flooding likely to worsen before improving

The Fox River appears to be cresting in McHenry, and its expected crest on Tuesday in Algonquin will be slightly lower than first projected.

However, both locations are in major flood stage, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. What’s more, the National Weather Service said McHenry County is in for more rain this week than first thought, and a thoroughly soaked Wisconsin – where much of this oncoming freight train of water came from – now is expected to get even more.

The current seven-day forecast calls for 2½ inches of rain in the McHenry County area through next Monday, and more than 3 inches through much of southern Wisconsin. That means a lot when rivers already are flooded, and the situation likely will worsen before it starts improving, county Emergency Management Agency Director David Christensen said.

“Any more rain that watershed up [in Wisconsin] gets is just going to prolong our recovery, and that’s going to make it tougher,” Christensen said.

The Fox River at the William G. Stratton-Thomas A. Bolger Lock and Dam in McHenry was at 7.45 feet Monday afternoon – its flood stage is 4 feet, and its major flood stage is 7 feet. At the Algonquin tailwater, the river was at 12.3 feet – flood stage is 9 feet, and major flood stage begins at 12 feet.

The river at the tailwater now is expected to crest Tuesday at 12.4 feet, which is lower than the original forecast of 13 feet. But it is expected to remain at major flood stage through Thursday and still be in moderate flood stage at about 10.5 feet well into next week.

“The good news is that the river crest will not be as bad as first thought. The bad news is how long that water is going to stick around. I haven’t seen a flat line like that for a long time. That means it can get into more places,” Christensen said.

The village of Algonquin has cordoned off parks and public spaces along the river, many of which already have filled with water – egrets and cormorants looked for food Monday next to the playground in flooded Cornish Park. Walls of sandbags lined backyards of historically plaqued, century-old homes on La Fox River Drive.

Down the street, six-year resident Andy Bobrow was feeling fortunate – aside from some water in the basement, the river had encroached only a bit into his backyard, just as it had during the last major river flood in 2013.

“I’m counting my blessings, compared to some of these people,” Bobrow said.

Just across the river from Bobrow, Kris and Barb Lindahl stood in front of their flooded home just off the McHenry County Prairie Trail. Their home at the end of Osceola Drive in normal years stands about 50 feet from the riverbank.

The couple, which had returned from their summer home in Michigan to survey the damage, have lived in the house for half a century, and this isn’t their first flood. But the couple took it in stride. Kris Lindahl walked through his still dry front yard and pointed to a front step that he said was an inch underwater in a past flood.

“Knock on wood, this is not the worst one,” he said.

Next-door neighbor Marie Betz’s house was dry, courtesy of slightly better geography and a wall of sandbags placed there by village volunteers. But the river claimed a large tree that uprooted the steps of her deck and could be seen from a distance.

Although she said she was crossing her fingers and hoping for the best from her sump pump, Betz was more eager to talk about the volunteers who put up the sandbags.

“They were absolutely wonderful,” Betz said.

Gov. Bruce Rauner declared McHenry, Kane and Lake counties disaster areas on Friday, shortly after all three county board chairmen each declared states of emergency. Rauner added Cook County on Sunday, the same day that he and other state and federal officials visited the Algonquin area.

Rauner’s declaration frees up state resources and activates the state Emergency Operations Center to coordinate the response.

The number of flood-damaged buildings in McHenry County still is unknown because the river still is rising, Christensen said. The last major Fox River flood in 2013 damaged 818 buildings.

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