Debra Shore kayaking on the Chicago River

In My Second Term

When I ran for the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) in 2006, I did so because I believe that water is going to be “the” issue in years to come and this agency — with its mandate to protect drinking water, treat wastewater, and manage stormwater — has a vital role to play. Since then, we’ve experienced two of the wettest years on record — 2008 and 2011 — and are in the midst of a significant drought. The water level in Lake Michigan is nearing its historic low level and in late October the annual rainfall in the Chicago region is about seven inches below average. Storms of unprecedented magnitude have caused basement backups, flooding and significant property damages for many thousands of people throughout Cook County.

Happily, I can report that we’ve gotten some good things done, big and small, in my first term at the MWRD. But much worthy work remains. Here’s what I intend to work on in my second term.

  1. Pass a strong stormwater ordinance for Cook County. This will set minimum standards for new development and redevelopment on parcels of a certain size in order to reduce flooding and protect water quality in rivers and streams.
  2. Establish an independent inspector general for the MWRD. Most state, county and city agencies already have such an office that provides additional oversight and accountability. With a $1B annual budget and hundreds of millions in contracts awarded each year, this good government measure makes sense and will ultimately save taxpayer money.
  3. Impose limits on campaign contributions from vendors and contractors doing business with the District similar to those already in place at the city and county.
  4. Explore opportunities for reuse of treated wastewater. The availability of treated water could be a driver for economic development, attracting the water-intensive industries of the future to our region.
  5. Develop a safe, secure collection program for unused or expired pharmaceuticals.

It’s a propitious time to be working on water issues. Author Charles Fishman noted, “In the last century, we moved water to people; in the next century, people will move to water.” The Chicago region can have a robust economy going forward because of our access to fresh water and our transit infrastructure. But the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District must reinvent itself as a 21st century resource recovery agency, finding and capturing the value in what we previously considered ‘waste’ — the methane gas generated by the treatment process, the biosolids, nutrients, and wastewater itself.

I am excited about the prospect of contributing to this transformation and I thank you for affording me the opportunity to serve for a second term. Because water matters.