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Ten years ago I began an improbable journey seeking a seat on the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) because I believe that water is going to be “the” issue in years to come and this agency has a key role to play in managing our precious freshwater resources. Having now served for eight years on the Board, I remain convinced that this is ever more the case. Stormwater management is freshwater management. Sewage treatment is resource recovery and part of that is used water repurposed for industrial applications. You can read more about the transformation of the old sanitary district in my latest annual report.
While the MWRD is moving aggressively into resource recovery, which I fully support, great challenges remain. We’ve been experiencing some very intense rainstorms in Cook County — think of the 3.6” that fell in 40 minutes in Burbank in August 2014. When that much rain falls in such a short time, it overwhelms the capacity of any local sewer system to capture and convey that water to a sewage treatment plant or nearby waterway. As a result, we’re witnessing widespread flooding and sewage or stormwater backups in basements all over the county. It’s a multifaceted problem and we will have to work in neighborhoods and with municipalities throughout the county to devise ways to keep rain out of the sewers. Green infrastructure — that suite of techniques designed to capture rain where it falls and allow it to recharge our underground water supply — has much promise but it cannot solve the problem alone.
Through the Watershed Management Ordinance adopted by the MWRD Board in 2013, the District is seeking to promote responsible development that won’t cause more flooding. Through close collaboration with municipalities throughout Cook County, MWRD is supporting the development of 100–year stormwater plans and working to remediate the worst flooding problems that threaten roads, structures and streambanks. Still, as climate change may cause “weather weirding” and more intense rainstorms become the new normal, how the District can help our region become more resilient is the challenge of our time.
There is no more worthy task than to address this challenge. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve. Because water matters.
To learn what to do with food waste, when to acknowledge World Toilet Day, and more about resource recovery at MWRD, please sign up for my periodic newsletters through the form on the left of this page.