December 4, 2018

Installation Remarks Delivered by Commissioner Debra Shore

Good afternoon distinguished guests, fellow commissioners, friends. We are honored to have you join us to witness this installation ceremony. I want to acknowledge and thank a few very special people – my spouse, Kathleen Gillespie, without whose love and steadfast support I would not be standing before you today; my son Ben Smith, who traveled from Seattle to be with us; my sister Wendy and her husband BJ from Dallas; my brother Andrew and his partner Sam from California; my sister and brothers-in law, Patti and Dave Rinard, Irv and Casey Gillespie from Grand Rapids, my cousins Steve and Helen from Ann Arbor.

Two people are not with us today whom I also want to acknowledge and thank — my parents, of blessed memory, Herbert and Selma Shore. Theydied before they could see me enter this fulfilling new chapter in my life of serving in public office, but they lived their lives in devotion and service to others and I shall endeavor to honor them with mine.

I want to congratulate Commissioner Kari Steele on her re-election and our new colleagues, Marcelino Garcia, Kim Du Buclet and Cam Davis.  They bring energy, intelligence, new skill sets, and fresh perspectives to this board.

I want to thank my incumbent colleagues for their insight, hard work, thoughtfulness and collegial spirit. It is a pleasure and an honor to continue to learn from and work with you.  And I want to thank my staff, Alfred Saucedo and – until recently, Tim Oravec -- for being part of my policy team. Congratulations to the District’s new executive director, Brian Perkovich. I look forward to working with you in the years to come.

Fifty years ago, a biology professor named Garrett Hardin published an essay in Science magazine called “The Tragedy of the Commons.” In his essay, Hardin invites us to consider a pasture shared by numerous herdsmen as a commons. Each herdsman grazes as many cattle as possible in this shared space to maximize the benefit to him and his family, but the numbers are kept in check by disease, poaching, disputes and so forth. Each individual herdsman, however, has rational incentives to add one more cow to the pasture. The benefits of the additional cow accrue to him, but the costs – the additional grazing on a pasture limited in size and natural resources – are shared by all, so they seem minimal. So each herdsman does the same, wanting to increase his income while the degradation to the pasture is only slight. Eventually, however, the ability of the pasture to support many more cows – the carrying capacity of the land – is exceeded and the “commons” is ruined. Today we see this dynamic at work in a variety of different settings -- with overgrazing of federal grasslands, overfishing of the seas, depletion of aquifers, and loss of nutrients in our soils.

The world population when Garrett Hardin wrote his essay was 3.5 billion people. Today it is more than 7.5 billion. Yet many of the earth’s essential resources are finite, and we are exceeding the carrying capacity of Planet Earth. Hence the tragedy of Hardin’s title.

Why do I mention this today? Because the Great Lakes are our commons.

Millions of us — Canadians and Americans alike — share in their bounty. Indeed, our lives are utterly dependent on freshwater — for drinking, for industry, to support the plants and animals that provide us with food and shelter. Happily, we are coming to recognize that not only do we depend on the lakes, but that they depend on us. We are the stewards of this precious resource and, vast as they are, they are not inexhaustible. They are not eternally resilient.

When we use fertilizer containing phosphorus and nitrates on our lawns, when we apply herbicides and pesticides to our gardens and fields, when we pour oil down a street drain or flush medicines down the toilet, we are adding that additional cow to the finite pasture. We are adding pollution to our lakes and streams.

In fact, the founding story of this noble organization is to protect Lake Michigan from pollution – human and animal waste. The magnificent enterprise of reversing a river to protect drinking water in this great lake is a testament to human ingenuity and drive. And it is working! Today Chicago and Cook County have a reliable, safe, and abundant source of fresh water to sustain us and our industry, and the Chicago waterways are increasingly viewed – and used – as an amenity enhancing quality of life, increasing property values, providing recreational opportunities and attracting visitors both human and avian.

Yet threats to the health of our ecosystem remain and in some ways are more worrisome than ever before. Fifty years ago, no one knew or could even envision the problems of microbeads or PFAs, of invasive species and lead pipes.

This agency can and must take the lead in addressing issues of water quality and water quantity. We are experiencing more intense rainstorms that overwhelm the capacity of our aging infrastructure to deal with them. This agency can and must take the lead in managing stormwater to make our region resilient in the face of climate change. Fortunately, we can change the culture and signs of progress are all around us.

In September I attended a conference on water reuse in Austin, Texas joined by droves of people from water-scarce regions. Enterprising wastewater agencies in Colorado, Oregon, Arizona and Texas are providing wastewater treated to a level of quality high enough to brew beer.  Clean Water Services out of Portland offered tastings, and here’s their message:

All water has been consumed before and will be consumed again. The water you drink is more than 4.6 billion years old. And, all water aspires to be beer.

Your take-aways from today? First, you have before you a talented, energetic new board, eager to take on the challenge of water management in a changing climate. Second, we all share an obligation to be careful and caring stewards of our precious freshwater resources, to grow our economy and create new blue-green jobs through wise use of this strategic asset.  And, finally, all water aspires to be beer.

Thank you. May God bless you. And Happy Birthday Illinois.