It’s 2020, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, and clean water and safe sanitation are ever more critical to public health and well-being. (Please wash your hands!)
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago observed its 130th anniversary last year. The events of 1889 seem paradoxically distant and yet somehow very near as we recall that the residents of Chicago, facing threats of widespread cholera and typhoid outbreaks from contaminated drinking water, endeavored to establish the Chicago Sanitary District to keep sewage out of Lake Michigan, the source of Chicago’s drinking water.
The colossal engineering feat of digging the Sanitary & Ship Canal, reversing the flow of the Chicago River, and protecting the drinking water supply, in my view, allowed Chicago and later Cook County to become a great metropolis—Nature’s Metropolis, as environmental historian William Cronon has called it.
We have never lacked for challenges, nor the bold and big ideas to address them. Yet now we face twinned challenges that are, quite simply, existential: the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. I’ll be posting more throughout the year about my thoughts—and efforts—to tackle these.
In the meantime, my 2019 annual report presents some highlights from the past year, including work on a pandemic preparedness plan.