Official website for the City of Aurora, Illinois. Mayor Robert J. O'Connor

Protecting Aurora’s Waterways

The Fox River has always been a valuable resource for Aurora. In the City’s early years the river was an essential part of industry and commerce. Today, Aurora relies on the river for drinking water and recreation, and after decades of cleanup and restoration, the river is home to a growing variety of wildlife. Because of its value, Aurora is actively working to protect the Fox River and its waterways from pollution.  

Find out what the city is doing and how you can help.

The Sewer System and the Potential for Pollution

Two types of pollution affect the Fox River: sewage from homes and businesses, and stormwater runoff from yards, agriculture and streets.

Both kinds of pollution are carried through an extensive network of sewers throughout the city. Some carry sewage, others carry just stormwater, and combined sewers carry both sewage and stormwater.

More than a century ago, cities across the United States, including Aurora and other communities up and down the Fox River, built combined sewers that took both sewage and stormwater away from homes and streets and dumped it directly into the river.

In 1927, decades before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began requiring sewage treatment, forward-thinking Aurora residents supported the construction of a sewage treatment plant and new sewers. Those combined sewers are still in operation today and carry sewage and waste to the Fox Metro Water Reclamation treatment facility in Oswego, which cleans the water before returning it to the Fox River.

The combined sewer system can handle Aurora’s typical volume of both sewage and runoff, but during heavy rainstorms and snow melt too much water floods the sewers. When that happens, untreated sewage overflows into the Fox River or backs up into basements. This is called a combined sewer overflow, or CSO.

To solve this problem, Aurora and other cities across the country began installing more modern storm sewer systems separate from the sewers that carry sewage from homes and businesses. Today, when new sewers are installed, one set of sanitary sewers moves the sewage from homes and businesses to the Fox Metro Treatment Facility, and another set of sewers takes rain and snow melt runoff from roads directly to the Fox River, Indian Creek, Waubonsie Creek, Blackberry Creek, and the West Branch of the DuPage River.

These separate storm sewers have the benefit  of preventing combined sewer overflows, keeping human waste out of our river, but the rain and snow melt from urban areas like Aurora can carry pollutants like lawn fertilizer and weed killer, vehicle fluids, winter road salt, pet waste and chemicals that are illegally dumped into drains out to the Fox River.

How the City of Aurora protects its waterways

The Clean Water Act amendments of 1972 authorized the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).  Under the NPDES program, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) controls water pollution by regulating the discharge of pollutants from point sources -- individual discharge points, such as pipes or man-made ditches.  The City of Aurora has two NPDES permits: one permit for its combined sewer overflows (CSOs); and one permit for the municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4).

  • CSO Permit
  • Aurora developed its EPA-mandated CSO Long-Term Control Plan (Volume 1 and Volume 2) and is working aggressively to implement the Plan. The City’s strategies for controlling CSOs include: modifying the overflow structures, constructing new storm sewers to reduce the amount of stormwater in combined sewers, installing green infrastructure to reduce the volume of runoff, and constructing additional storage and treatment facilities.  Implementing the plan has cost the City $40.3 million so far and is expected to cost the City another $100.5 million (in 2016 dollars) by the time the scheduled projects are completed in 2030.
    • Projects already completed
      • River Street Sewer Separation (2009-2010)
      • Spring Street Sewer Separation (2010)
      • East Side Rain Gardens (2012)
      • Northeast Sewer Separation (2014)
      • Galena and New York Sewer Separation (2015)
    • Ongoing project
      • Galena and Downer Sewer Separation
    • Planned projects
      • CSO 01 Treatment and Storage
      • CSO 04 Pumping Station and Force Mains
    • The City and the Fox Metro Water Reclamation District work together to operate and maintain the combined sewer system in Aurora. In order to reduce the magnitude, frequency, and duration of CSOs, the City and the District established operational, maintenance, and inspection procedures for the combined sewer system, which are documented in the CSO Operational and Maintenance Plan.  Together, the City and the District implement a range of best management practices (BMPs) designed to reduce the volume of pollutants entering the combined sewer system and also the number of CSOs that occur.  These BMPs are described in the CSO Pollution Prevention Plan
    • Use of the City’s sewer system, and connection to it, are regulated by Section 48-103 and Sections 48-131 through 48-142 of the Municipal Code.
    • The City submits monthly Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) to the EPA. DMRs identify the location and date of recorded CSOs with an estimate of the duration of each CSO.  They also present the results of water quality sampling performed at CSO 027.
  • MS4 Permit
    • The MS4 permit requires the City to reduce stormwater pollution to the maximum extent practicable through six specific initiatives: (1) public education and outreach; (2) public involvement and participation; (3) illicit discharge detection and elimination; (4) construction site runoff control; (5) post-construction runoff control; and (6) pollution prevention for municipal operations.
    • At the beginning of each permit cycle, the City submits a Notice of Intent (NOI) to comply with the permit requirements. The NOI commits the City to meeting specific goals within the term of the permit.  Each year the City submits an Annual Report describing the City’s progress toward meeting its goals.
    • Discharges and connections to the City’s storm sewer system are regulated by Section 48-103 and Sections 48-131 through 48-142 of the Municipal Code.

How You Can Help

Protect yourself

During combined sewage overflows, rivers and streams carry diluted sewage that contains bacteria. Contact with this raw sewage can spread disease. Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Be aware of Aurora’s CSO sites. A sign is posted near each outfall to warn the public.
  • Avoid swimming, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and other water sports in the Fox River and Indian Creek during and soon after rainstorms and snow melt.
  • Install basement backup protection through Aurora’s Sanitary Sewer Backup Prevention Assistance Program.

Report Sewer Backups

Any time sewage backs up into your basement, contact Aurora’s Water and Sewer Maintenance Division BEFORE calling a plumber. During normal business hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, call 630-256-3710. After hours or on weekends and holidays, call 855-432-0062.


Protect the Fox River

The Fox River and its tributaries are our source of drinking water, a habitat for wildlife, and a driver for business and recreation. Here’s how you can help protect it:

Report illegal dumping

Report illegal dumping, suspicious discharges from the storm sewer system, or soil erosion problems. Illegal dumping includes solid and liquid waste along any waterway in the City of Aurora. To report illegal dumping, call 630-256-3710 and provide an address or specific location, and photographs, if possible.

You can also report illegal dumping anonymously through the Info Aurora app, available for iPhone or Android. Just click ‘Create a Service Request’ to tag the exact location and submit photos.

Reduce stormwater pollution

Don’t dump anything into a storm drain.  Wash your car at a commercial car wash, where the wash water drains to the sanitary sewer system.  Use fertilizer and de-icing salt sparingly. 

For more information about stormwater pollution prevention and proper disposal of waste, refer to the following resources:

Go green at home

Implement sustainable practices at home and at work using rain gardens, rain barrels, permeable pavement, and conservation landscaping.  For more information about these practices and their importance in a changing climate, refer to the following resources.


Get involved

Volunteer with a local organization.  There are many from which to choose.  The following organizations work with the City of Aurora on waterway issues: