As Kankakee River water levels decrease after ice jam flash flooding, Will County assesses damage

Water levels on the Kankakee River continue to rapidly decrease after “life-threatening” flooding in Wilmington forced residents and businesses to evacuate Friday. Now, county and local officials are taking stock of the damage left behind.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood and flood warnings due to water levels that reached 15.62 feet Friday evening because of an ice jam that formed near I-55 between Wilmington and the Des Plaines River confluence.

It was the third-highest level recorded on the Kankakee River and the highest since 1887, according to the Will County Emergency Management Agency. On Sunday morning, water levels were recorded at 5.7 feet. Though the flood warnings have expired, local officials are still monitoring water levels and have advised residents that river conditions can change rapidly.

The county agency has launched a survey for residents and businesses to report any damages at Damage assessment teams are also inspecting personal property, businesses and public infrastructure.

“City staff have been working around the clock to ensure the safety of residents during this flood event,” said Wilmington Mayor Ben Dietz in a statement Sunday. “I appreciate everyone who stepped up to keep residents safe during this flooding event. Our work isn’t finished yet. We are working to fully assess and repair the damage that occurred over the last few days.”

Ice jams happen when pieces of floating ice accumulate together and block the flow of a river. The weather service issued a flood warning due to ice jams for Will and Grundy counties last Sunday as water levels decreased from over 13 feet but still hovered at 9.9 feet. Officials also announced a disaster declaration in unincorporated Will County and Wilmington before the most recent flash flooding.

Major roads in Wilmington and unincorporated Will County have been reopened, though the North and South Island parks remain closed. City officials issued a boil order “out of an abundance of caution,” asking everyone serviced by the city’s water service to boil any water used for drinking or cooking for five minutes.

According to an earlier statement by Mayor Dietz, the main water intake, pumping equipment and electronics at the city’s water treatment plant were flooded Friday afternoon. He said the equipment will need to be dried, inspected and tested before resuming operations, which can take “significant time” to complete.

Dietz said those in need can pick up bottled water at City Hall, 1165 S. Water St., beginning Monday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“Minor flooding might still occur over the next week due to ice that remains along the river and on many properties,” said Will County EMA Director Allison Anderson. “We’re asking residents to remain cautious as they assess the damage from the last week.”

Anyone in need of emergency shelter due to flooding should call Will County Emergency Management Agency at 815-740-0911.