My Mission for a Third Term

You read it here first: I intend to run for another term on the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD). Will you row on with me? The primary election is on March 20, 2018 and I am embarking on a re-election campaign.

Each year since I have produced an annual report describing my work at the District. My 2016 report — charting 10 years of service to the people of Cook County — is here.

Why am I running? Because water matters.

Perhaps that sounds simplistic, I realize, but since I took office in late 2006, residents of Cook County have experienced devastating flooding in some places, widespread basement backups, and two of the wettest years on record (2008 and 2011). People in Flint, Michigan have been afflicted with lead in their drinking water resulting from undemocratic government and criminal decisions. People in Toledo, Ohio — more than 400,000 – could not drink their water for several days in 2014 because a massive algae bloom in Lake Erie contained toxic bacteria. Droughts have seared the West; Lake Michigan reached an all-time low in early 2013. Climate change is causing more intense rain events that are more localized and less predictable, overwhelming the capacity of municipal sewer systems to function properly.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District treats sewage for the equivalent of 10 million people (residential and industrial waste generated in Cook County) and manages stormwater for the second-largest county in the country, meaning that it plays a key role in how we manage our water resources – protecting our drinking water supply and freshwater in the form of rain.

I’ve had a hand in several initiatives that have dramatically improved water quality in the Chicago Area Waterways — supporting disinfection of treated water at the Calumet and O’Brien wastewater treatment plants, for example, and the removal of nutrients from water discharged into the waterways — but more work remains to be done and I still have an appetite to do it. The people of Cook County deserve committed leaders on the MWRD Board who advocate for environmental protection and economic growth. That’s why I am running for another term. I hope I can earn your support.

Here’s what I plan to focus on the coming years:

  • Transparent, responsive, effective government
  • Techniques to reduce flooding and basement backups
  • Expansion of safe, secure collection sites for disposal of unused or expired pharmaceuticals
  • Plan quarterly town hall meetings to reach residents throughout Cook County

The MWRD has a budget in excess of $1.2 billion in 2017, awards contracts in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year, yet has no independent oversight in the form of an inspector general (as nearly all other government bodies do). I intend to work with my colleagues to establish some form of independent audit function at the District.

You may have read in my 2015 annual report about the idea of a distributed network of rain capture systems, what MWRD Executive Director has called “the fourth reservoir.” This idea has shown considerable merit in computer modeling and is ready for testing in a demonstration project. We need to capture rain where it falls and keep it out of the sewers. Let’s see what we can do — soon!

In 2016, my staff and I worked with the Cook County Board in promoting and securing adoption of an ordinance to expand safe, secure collection sites for people to dispose of their unused or expired medicines under the authority of the Cook County Sheriff. Whatever is thrown in the trash or flushed down the toilet ends up in our waterways, which we don’t want. And it’s important to keep drugs from accumulating at home where they can become a risk to seniors and to teens. This year I will be working with the newly established Cook County Advisory Council on Pharmaceutical Disposal to ensure that expansion of collection sites reaches underserved areas of the County and that promotion materials provide sound information.

Click here to find out the nearest collection box to you.

Finally, I believe the MWRD should be out in communities across the county answering people’s questions about stormwater and sewage — not solely in the wake of a bad storm, but as a regular part of doing business. You’ll see us more often!