Elected official: Illinois Sen. Sue Rezin

Location: The Illinois 38th District

Story Map: Following Ottawa’s Lead: Illinois' 38th District and the Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance

Link to full interview video

Located southwest of Chicago, the Illinois 38th District includes five counties. The Illinois and Fox Rivers run through the district, which has a total of approximately 130 miles of river frontage. The downside of such an abundance of river access is that the district experiences flooding whenever there is a major rain event. In 2013, record flooding damaged communities, hospitals, schools, wastewater treatment plants, etc., resulting in more than $150 million in damage.

However, one community in the district was notably not impacted by the 2013 flood: the city of Ottawa, a community with a history of devastating floods due to its geography. Located at the confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers, Ottawa is vulnerable to flooding caused by runoff from a watershed that covers more than 11,000 square miles, even when the city itself gets little rain. The city experienced record flooding in 1974, 1982, 1983, 1996, 1997, 2007, 2008, and 2009. In the late 1990s, Ottawa was one of the worst repetitive loss communities in the state.

Ottawa reversed its fortune mainly through a series of buyouts, beginning in 1998. The buyouts took place in a residential neighborhood known as “the Flats.” Most of the Flats had flooded repeatedly because of its location on the Fox River and its low elevation. The area was converted to Fox River Park, and now provides natural floodwater storage when the river rises on a regular basis.

Ottawa also passed an ordinance in 2009 requiring permits for building within the 100-year floodplain, and created a Floodplain Management Commission in 2011. In 2013, the new measures underwent trial by flood. Although the river crested 1.5 feet above the level of any previous event, the city sustained no significant damage. According to a loss avoidance study, the buyouts saved the city $9.5 million on a $4.8 million investment.

Following Ottawa’s lead after the devastating 2013 flood, Illinois Senator Sue Rezin joined forces with Ottawa Building and Zoning Manager Mike Sutfin to form the Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance (IVFRA). According to the senator’s website, IVFRA brings communities, local governments and emergency personnel together to help them prepare for extreme weather events (particularly floods) through education, communication and purchasing flood-protection materials. IVFRA has also assisted in securing grant funding for communities to reduce flood losses, and developed a resiliency plan for the region. Rezin is a strong advocate for flood mitigation and community resiliency, and there are now 23 Certified Floodplain Managers within her district.

Link to full interview video

Story Map: Following Ottawa’s Lead: Illinois' 38th District and the Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance


Story Map Cover

Take a story map guided tour through all the communities featured in Volume III's Success Stories. You can explore each communities’ timeline of flood events and responses, with an immersive narrative that includes photos, videos, and audio clips.


See more Success Stories from the Guide for Elected Officials