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City Says Hidden River Pathway Project Will Help Alleviate Flooding Issues Downtown

Construction on the Hidden River Pathway Project replacing stormwater drains under the city.

Construction on the Hidden River Pathway Project replacing stormwater drains under the city. (Alex Paul/WTIU)

Before the turn of the century, the area around Kirkwood Avenue immediately west of Indiana University was prone to flooding.

But in 2000, the city undertook what was to be called the Big Dig. The months-long project replaced century-old pipes under the Kirkwood and Dunn Street intersection.

It alleviated the issue somewhat, but in 2008 torrential rain in early June flooded the area with a couple of feet of water.

Then  — last weekend — it happened again.

“A lot of us are asking why this happened,” said Sue Aquila, the owner of the Bloomington Bagel Company. “We went through a big dig years ago to prevent this from happening.”

The Bloomington Bagel Company on Dunn Street just north of Kirkwood remains closed due to the flooding.

City officials say much of the blame goes to Mother Nature. The city received more than 4 and a half inches of rain last Friday night – that’s more than the monthly average for June in the area.

“It was really an extraordinary deluge that was overwhelming basically the natural world and the built world,” Bloomington mayor John Hamilton said.

Hamilton also pointed a finger at the intake culvert at Sixth and Indiana, which funnels the water from Campus River — formerly known as the Jordan River — into the Big Dig.

“The basic problem is the river channel, if you will, is not big enough to carry a huge rain,” Hamilton said. “So it rises up from Sixth and Indiana and flows downhill, which it did to cross kind of western across downtown and Kirkwood.”

But the Big Dig of 2000 replaced only part of the stormwater infrastructure downtown, which further complicates the issue as newer, larger pipes converge with century-old, smaller pipes.

The system eventually drains into Clear Creek near First and Walnut south of the downtown.

Hamilton says the original Big Dig plans called for replacing the pipe that runs from the Kirkwood area to roughly Second and Washington. The city resurrected the plans in 2018 and increased the stormwater fee to city residents to help pay for the new infrastructure project.

Construction on the Hidden River Pathway Project replacing stormwater drains under the city.

“That fee increase was part of that was specifically so that we could undertake this Hidden River Pathway Project, and complete that design, way back from when we did the first Big Dig,” said Holly McLauchlin, the communications manager for the City of Bloomington Utilities.

The city began work on the Hidden River Project earlier this year. The $13 million undertaking will replace old culverts with larger, box-shaped culverts sloped to move more water away from the city.

It will connect the Big Dig to recently reconstructed stormwater infrastructure that runs from Second and Washington to the Clear Creek outlet a block south.

“That's going to make a big difference for our downtown,” McLauchlin said. “We’ve improved upstream, we've improved downstream, and this is that connection between the two. So as much as big dig 2000 improved Kirkwood, having this pipe really be able to carry that water away is going to be helpful.”

Map of stormwater pipe construction in Bloomington

Hamilton wouldn’t promise the Hidden River Pathway Project would carry all the water away to prevent future flooding, but said it would alleviate much of the problem.

“By the end of next year we should have basically doubled the size of that conduit, which means it can carry more water,” he said.

Homeowners along Clear Creek worry that increased flow from the city will only worsen an already bad situation. Several residents and businesses along Clear Creek were damaged by last weekend’s floods.

“This creek cannot hold that (much water),” said Sheila Paul, who owns and rents property along the creek. “We have owned these apartments for 38 years. We flooded in 2019 and in 21. And we never had that problem before.”

After the Hidden River Project is completed, Hamilton says the city hopes to tackle the Campus River intake culvert.

But the one thing the city has no control over is the climate.

“Scientists tell us and we see more of these 100 year events happening not every 100 years, but more frequently,” Hamilton said. “So, it is getting used to how we adapt to those things like we are, we are seriously investing in green infrastructure.”

 

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