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Deep Tunnel Project Information & Maps
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Flood Relief Project

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Deep Tunnel Chicago Area Map

Thornton Transitional Reservoir Drawing

OMM / Blasting and Explosives Information
This is a link to a page of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources / Office of Mines and Minerals website that addresses blasting procedures and how homes are protected.


What do I do if I believe my home has been damaged by quarry blasting?

Material Service Corporation actually conducts the blasting at the Thornton Quarry. They are monitored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Initial inquiries regarding property damage should be directed to Material Service Corporation at (708) 877-6540. If you are unable to resolve your concern with Material Service Corporation, contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources:

Illinois Department of Natural Resources/OMM
Blasting & Explosives Division
524 South Second Street
Springfield, IL 62701-1787
Phone: (217) 782-9976 Fax: (217) 524-4819 TDD: (217) 524-4626

Visit the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's website to learn more about this project.

Reprinted from South Holland Today, April 2000. Written by Marlene Cook

"There is light at the end of the (diversion) tunnel," said Trustee Frank Knittle, as he beamed with the promise of flood relief for residents after many, many years of hard work and patience.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) announced in March that it will begin the first phase of the Thornton Quarry Water Retention Project, authorized back in 1977. It's expected to be completed in 2002.

South Holland has played a leading role in pushing for the completion of this project. Committees have worked long and hard on comprehensive flood planning with the Mayors and Mangers Association, state and federal representatives, and committee members consistently met with the MWRD.

Knittle said, "Of all the work we've done through the years, none has the impact of this project. We've been working on this since long before 1976."

Various attempts to solve flooding were made through the years by many organizations. In 1969, the Operation Little Calumet Commission was appointed by then Governor Richard Olgivie. In 1971, more than 500 volunteers dragged more than 150 tons of debris from the shores and channel of the river. That same year, the Little Calumet Basin Steering Committee was organized. This time the Sanitary District became the sponsor. Many sub committees were formed and many meetings were held to study suggestions for submission to the federal government for funding to begin building retention basins.

From 1973 to 1976, Thornton Township began working on the flood problems and organized a major cleanup using the Illinois National Guard 33rd Brigade. They hauled more than 350 tons of debris and silt and it proved to be somewhat helpful to South Holland.

Records show that flooding occurred in South Holland as early as 1908. There was some flooding in the 1920s, but the first major flood happened in 1947 when the height of flood water at Cottage Grove was recorded as 593.5 feet above sea level.

In October 1954, a greater flood height of 594.4 feet was recorded and in April 1957, another record was set at 595 feet. In June 1981, it again broke records at 595.3 feet. More floods came in 1982 and 1989 at 594.6 feet, but in November 1990, a new record was set at 595.5 feet.

Terrance O'Brien, President of MWRD, said, "This has been years in the planning. The Transitional Reservoir to be placed in the west lobe of the (Material Service Corporation's) Thornton Quarry will finally provide relief to your village."

Mayor Don De Graff said, "We've worked very hard as a village, but it's been only a Band-Aid solution while waiting for this tunnel project."

The MWRD announced, "The Thornton Transitional Reservoir is a project that will provide 9,600 acre-feet (3.1 billion gallons) of overbank flood protection for the Little Calumet River, and is the final structural measure to be implemented for the Little Calumet River Watershed. This reservoir was identified in the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Little Calumet River Watershed Plan of November 1978. It will provide flood control benefits for 14 communities along the Little Calumet River, and will protect 21 businesses and 4,400 residences, for an average annual benefit of $6.7 million per year."

As part of the ongoing Deep Tunnel Project, the floodwater from the Little Calumet River and Thorn Creek will be diverted into the west lobe of Thornton Quarry through two and one half miles of underground tunnel.

Rich Zimmerman said, "The deep tunnel work has been completed in our area, ending at 173rd Street, where the rock pile is located. The tunnel is 30 feet in diameter, larger than most, and is equipped to handle the huge amounts of water."

Knittle explained, "At Thorn Creek, a controlled weir (an obstruction placed in a stream diverting the water through a prepared aperture for measuring the rate of flow), will be installed. As the water raises to that level, it will overflow into the tunnel and travel through the tunnel into the receiver that will hold up to 3.1 billion gallons of water."

In simpler terms it might be compared to a bathtub overflow drain. He said, "That water will be pumped back through the Deep Tunnel to another leg that will take it to the Calumet Filtering Plant at 123rd Street and it will be dispersed into the Little Calumet River at a slow rate."

This system will only take Thorn Creek's overflow water, but it will divert flood water that would otherwise go into the Little Calumet River into the reservoir, thus helping to keep the Little Calumet from overflowing as well.

At a recent village board meeting attended by O'Brien and commissioners James Harris, former mayor of Phoenix, Martin Sandoval and Harry "Bus" Yorrell, Mayor De Graff said, "We can't overstate the importance of what you are doing for the tragedies of these flood ravaged homes. What you are providing will save millions of dollars and a lot of, a very lot of, aggravation."

O'Brien said, "The implementation of this reservoir will capture four million gallons of water to help alleviate the flooding from the river basin. The reservoir will be empty between rains. This part of the project will be completed by May 2002, but it will not alleviate the problems from the combined sewer system just yet. That phase will be completed in 2013."

The Transitional Reservoir will provide storage during construction of the Thornton Composite Reservoir. In the North Lobe of the Quarry to be completed in 2013. Upon completion, the Transitional Reservoir will be decommissioned, and mining will resume in the West Lobe of the Quarry. Estimated cost of this project is $42,000,000.

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Tunnel and Reservoir Plan

Note: This information was obtained from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District website.

Combined Sewer Overflow

Chicago and 51 older municipalities in Cook County have combined sewer systems. This means when rain falls, storm runoff drains into a combined sewer where it mixes with the sewerage flow from homes and industry. The net result is one massive quantity of dirty water! A system which was designed to treat 2 billion gallons of wastewater per day may be inundated with more than 5 billion gallons of rainwater runoff (about 1" of rain) during a single rainstorm.

Where can it all go? Since there are few open fields or wetlands in the Chicago area to absorb the runoff, the options are limited. Before sewage treatment plants were built in the early 1900s, the combined sewage flowed directly into the waterways. By the 1950s, the District's treatment plants could capture and treat about a billion gallons per day. When the urban area grew and treatment plants were at capacity there was no alternative but to allow the excess mixture of raw sewage and stormwater to spill directly into the rivers and canals as "combined sewer overflow" or "CSO". This meant that much untreated sewage, diluted with storm runoff, was bypassing treatment plants and polluting area lakes, rivers, and streams, and also causing street and basement flooding. A better solution had to be found.

The Deep Tunnel

In the 1970s, a team of engineers from the District, the City of Chicago, Cook County and State agencies considered various plans to solve the problem of flooding and water pollution. The hybrid plan selected as best and most cost-effective was the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan or TARP. Under this plan, 109 miles of huge underground tunnels would be burrowed under the city to intercept combined sewer overflow and convey it to large storage reservoirs. After the storm had subsided, the overflow could then be conveyed to treatment plants for cleaning before going to a waterway.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency provided nearly 75% of the funding for this revolutionary project. The first 31 miles of tunnel extending from Wilmette on the north shore to Hodgkins just southwest of Chicago were completed and put into service in 1985. Other tunnel systems were constructed near O'Hare on the north, under the Des Plaines river to the west and under the Cal-Sag Channel and Little Calumet River to the south. (See Map)

The Mainstream tunnel is 35 feet in diameter, bored in limestone rock 240 to 350 feet below ground, and holds one billion gallons of water. TARP has received many awards, including the American Society of Civil Engineers award for most outstanding Civil Engineering Project of 1986. Mainstream is one of the largest rock tunnel bores on record. Since tunnel contractors would be working beneath homes, businesses and streets, excavation by extensive blasting was ruled out. Boring by huge tunnel boring machines (TBMs) was selected instead to cause less rock disturbance, noise and vibration. The specialized TBMs on TARP represented the largest such machines ever built, and TARP TBM technology has led to other major projects, such as the English Channel "Chunnel".

Nearly fifteen years later the success of this project is evident by the dramatic improvements in the water quality of the Chicago River, the Calumet River and our other waterways. Game fish have returned marinas and riverside restaurants abound, river recreation and tourism are booming, and waterfront real estate values have skyrocketed as Chicago area residents see the river system as a major asset rather than an embarrassment.

Because of the success of the District's pollution control projects, it is no longer necessary to use Lake Michigan water to dilute sewage and flush it downstream. Since the amount of lake water which can be diverted for all purposes is limited by a Supreme Court decree, the District's conservation of Lake Michigan water frees up enough from our allocation to supply fresh drinking water to residents of Lake, DuPage and other collar counties.

The Tunnel and Reservoir Project construction continues. As tunnel segments are completed, they are immediately placed in service to provide benefits. About 93 miles of tunnels are completed, and in service, and 8 miles are under construction. All 109 miles of tunnels should be completed by 2004. The first of three huge terminal reservoirs (O'Hare CUP) was completed in 1998. These reservoirs are a joint project of the Water Reclamation District and the Army Corps of Engineers.

When completed, the reservoirs will further increase the capacity of the TARP system by 15.6 billion gallons, providing major flood relief benefits and additional pollution control improvements. The completion of this entire project, along with local municipal sewer upgrades and connections to make use of TARP's outlet capacity, is greatly reducing pollution and flooding problems in Cook County's 375 square mile combined sewered area serving over 3 million people. TARP relieves each local municipality of the burden of designing, building and operating its own system to capture and treat combined sewer overflow to comply with State and Federal regulations. The District provides a regional approach to urban water management that is considerably more efficient and cost-effective for the communities within its service area.

TARP was named by the USEPA as one of the nation's top Clean Water Act success stories, and is serving as a model urban water management tool worldwide.


The McCook Reservoir is currently under construction and, when completed, the reservoir will have a total capacity of 10 billion gallons. Phase 1 of the reservoir is planned to be completed by 2017. The McCook Reservoir will provide over $90 million per year in flood damage reduction benefits to 3.1 million people in 37 communities.

The Thornton Reservoir will be constructed in two stages. The first stage, a temporary 3.1 billion gallon Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) reservoir called the Thornton Transitional Reservoir, was completed in March 2003 in the West Lobe of the Thornton Quarry. This reservoir provides overbank flood relief for 9 communities and has captured over 26 billion gallons of flood water. The second stage is a permanent 7.9 billion gallon combined NRCS/CUP reservoir, called the Thornton Composite Reservoir, to be located in the North Lobe of the Thornton Quarry. The Thornton Composite Reservoir is planned to be completed by 2015 and will provide $40 million per year in benefits to 556,000 people in 15 communities.

The success of the TARP is evident by the dramatic improvements in the water quality of the Chicago River, the Calumet River and other waterways. Game fish have returned, marinas and riverside restaurants abound, river recreation and tourism are booming, and waterfront real estate values have skyrocketed as Chicago area residents see the river system as a major asset rather than an embarrassment.

TARP has received many awards, including the American Society of Civil Engineers award for most outstanding Civil Engineering Project of 1986. TARP was named by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of the nation's top Clean Water Act success stories and is serving as a model urban water management tool worldwide.

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Tunnel And Reservoir Plan Map

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Thornton Transitional Reservoir

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Village of South Holland  -  16226 Wausau Avenue  -  South Holland, Illinois 60473  -  708-210-2900
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