Alderman Tackles Stormwater Issues in Her Own Little Corner of Elmhurst

By installing a permeable driveway, Alderman Diane Gutenkauf hopes to eliminate excess water on her property, a problem for many Elmhurst residents.

For 1st Ward Alderman Diane Gutenkauf, installing a new eco-friendly, permeable driveway is about more than just replacing crumbling concrete.

The driveway needed to be replaced, and because the yard was subject to ponding in heavy rains, Gutenkauf and her husband thought this was a great opportunity to create a solution.

“It was the perfect combination of things,” she said.

During a normal rain, the water from the yard would run down the driveway to the street and along the curb until it hit the sewer.

“It’s like a little river, just flows down the driveway, which is, on the one hand, great because it drains the back yard,” Gutenkauf said. “On the other hand, it’s flowing into the streets, it hits the streets, it runs along the curb until it goes into the storm sewer. When you couple that with ... I thought, ‘Well since we need to replace the driveway anyway, let’s look at doing a permeable driveway.’ If everything works like it’s supposed to, the water from my back yard will hit the driveway and sink in."

Gutenkauf said it is important for people in Elmhurst to figure out ways to manage stormwater where it falls.

John Lockett, president of sales for C.R. Schmidt, the company that installed Gutenkauf’s driveway, said if everyone in Elmhurst had permeable driveways, it would make a big difference with stormwater issues.

“It would be humungous,” he said.

Removing the traditional driveway and installing a permeable driveway system costs about $15 to $20 a square foot. Gutenkauf's driveway cost $17,000 and took three days to install. 

Lockett estimated that it would have cost about half that for Gutenkauf to install a new concrete driveway, but there are tradeoffs. The overall estimated lifespan for a permeable system is at least 30 years. That's about three times the life span of concrete, he said. And the materials, like the concrete pavers, have a lifetime guarantee.

Underneath the pavers, Gutenkauf’s driveway has 14 inches of a gravel base specifically designed for permeable systems, Lockett said. Beneath that is soil. With this system, the water doesn’t go into the street and it doesn’t go into the storm sewer.

“It actually contains itself,” Lockett said.

The permeable driveway has a 30 percent "void," which means that of the entire surface area of the driveway, 30 percent is not concrete pavers. It is that 30 percent that allows the water to seep through. The paver driveway also has 90 percent compaction, which means it has a hard, level base, despite the permeable areas. A solid concrete driveway has a compaction of 100 percent.

It's one way to start to take on the "troubling, ongoing issue" of flooding, Gutenkauf said. Many Elmhurst homes and streets were by extensive flooding caused by two massive storms last summer.

“It seems to me that anything we can do to help contain the water where it falls is really important, and we should try to do it," she said.

There are other problems with runoff besides the amount of water, Gutenkauf said. As the water drains into the storm sewers it drags everything from the street with it—oil, cigarette butts and chemicals—which eventually make their way into the rivers and creeks and pollute it.

There are many materials that can be used for the permeable surface, including granite and glass, Gutenkauf said. But after she and her husband researched it, they went with the concrete pavers because it is a more traditional look.

She said it's important for people to think of creative ways to solve problems, and flooding has been the city has faced. She hopes other residents will consider permeable driveways.

“It’s something I think we should be encouraging people to do, and (we should) figure out ways to make information available. And, if showing off how pretty it can be helps, I’m happy to do that," she said.

Margaret July 14, 2011 at 04:50 PM
Good work, Diane.
Gy/Sgt Highway July 14, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Sounds like a solid idea to a big problem. Thank you.
Mike July 14, 2011 at 05:38 PM
Kudos to Diane! she is the greenest person in Elmhurst. My asphalt driveway is in such bad shape it is permeable, but not by choice. Will have to look into this solution. Facts: Concrete is waterproof and blacktop is not, at least after 6 month or a year of wear. Asphalt breaks down due to weather related issues: snow, ice & salt and heavy rains. This concept is great!
Keelie Witzel July 14, 2011 at 09:01 PM
It's beautiful, Diane!
Jim Court July 15, 2011 at 03:28 AM
Diane, always thinking! Good job. Out of curiosity, wouldn't the old fashioned and inexpensive stone driveway achieve much the same result? They are not allowed under current new building code. Any thoughts.
Ann Tranter July 15, 2011 at 10:11 PM
This type of system requires a shift in understanding Jim and you aren't the only one trying to understand how it works. A traditional stone driveway is very different from a permeable system. The pavers, which now come in many sizes, colors and styles even including an old cobble, have small gaps between them with an insertion of small stone between. Under the pavers is a significant stone base that has been screened (key) which allows the water a place to go. As the water perculates down through them, it reaches the soil layer below. The concept is to slow the water down to give it time to absorb into the soil layer allowing the water to be cleansed and cooled naturally as it has done so historically. This also minimizes what we are putting into the storm sewers. From a historical hydrological perspective, we have changed the face of the earth. Historically, our rivers and streams were created as rainwater traveled down through the surface of the earth and gradually found it's way upward forming seeps, springs and then continue on to create our streams and rivers. This is just one way of many ways of managing water sustainably. If you want to read up a bit more, check out www.cdfinc.com. The firm I am working with has been designing/engineering sustainable rainwater infrastructure for over 17 years. Take a look at our Charles City and West Union projects if you are interested. A traditional stone driveway has stone with fines which packs down; water runs off.
Jim Court July 15, 2011 at 10:28 PM
I have great admiration for intelligent individuals who move our world forward. My thought was that a driveway would not have to use C3 which contains fines that compact. I only mention this based on affordability issue. Obviously pavers offer a better aesthetic. Asphalt and concrete only allow for run off. Of course, if the property is large enough that should be okay. I always thought very highly of you and was pleasantly surprised to see your response.
Bill Angel July 16, 2011 at 01:34 AM
Diane, great work. Ann Tranter, you too. Question? Why has there not been a stitch of breakthrough thinking from this current administration given the persistent flooding. It's as if the Burke firm is stuck in the past telling us the same things we all aready know but with a different balony spin. Where can residents find new possibilities and seek out opportunities to help our fellow neighbors.
Jim Court July 16, 2011 at 12:09 PM
Joe, The reason I mentioned the course grade of stone was for the very reason you mention. People need a solution but cannot always afford expensive solutions. I was hoping to hear feedback from professionals as well as others. We need innovative, yet affordable solutions. Disconnecting gutters from the storm sewers and redirecting water to yard areas is an example. Anne is a very smart lady and I appreciate her input and ideas. The same for you.
Lisa Gerhold-Dirks July 16, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Diane: Thank you for the great example you've set with your new driveway!
Laura Koukas May 06, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Why not make it code that all commercial parking lots in DuPage county / Elmhurst be permeable parking lots? Give these businesses X number of years to budget and comply. Make it code for non-profit parking lots but give them more time to budget and comply. What about providing matching $ or low interest loans to homeowners who need to redo their driveways? what about making all new sidewalks permeable? We need a new sidewalk on E Crescent Street between York and Jefferson Grade School - make it permeable. This is expensive you say? So is hiring garbage disposal contractors to work overtime and on weekends, how much $ have the insurance companies paid out over the years, how much more have we paid in utilities for clean-up (electric for fans, natural gas for hot water to wash everything, water), replacement costs (furniture, carpet, toys, etc.) for those without insurance or not covered by insurance). Maybe we can get a volume discount negotiate for all this work, Hiring local companies with local workers would help the local economy.
Jim Court May 06, 2013 at 10:38 PM
I do not see why a driveway could not be graded into drain that dumps into a large layer of crushed rock which I believe would do the same thing.


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