Just last Wednesday and again on Thursday, untreated sewage was released into the Chicago River both in the city and the suburbs because of heavy rains. It was another reminder of why the work of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is so important.
Most of us understand what legislators, mayors and governors do, but often we are less sure what MWRD commissioners do, though their work can have an enormous impact on our daily lives. The agency cleans up sewage that is piped via sewers to its treatment plants, works to minimize the problem of flooded streets and basements, and extracts resources such as phosphorus from wastewater.
The MWRD has big challenges ahead. It must complete the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, known as the Deep Tunnel, a flood-control project it has been working on for decades. It must find ways to further disinfect effluent from its treatment plants to rid Chicago area waterways of pathogens. It must work with other governments to ward off new invasive species in our lakes and rivers. It must do more to keep the Chicago area from sending water-borne nutrients downstream that contribute to an annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Eight candidates are running for three six-year terms on the MWRD board. Republican R. Cary Capparelli and Green Party candidate Karen Roothaan offer some interesting ideas for the district, but our endorsements go to Democrats Debra Shore, Kari K. Steele and Marcelino Garcia as the most qualified candidates on the ballot.
In her 12 years on the MWRD board, Shore has been an important voice for the environment, advocating for new systems and technologies to keep sewage out of Lake Michigan and to treat sewage water more aggressively. She sees the agency as a guardian of the region’s fresh water. If re-elected, she hopes to push the board to finally hire an inspector general to provide more oversight and accountability over the district’s $1 billion annual budget.
Steele, an incumbent, has used her background as a water chemist to push for higher water quality standards. If returned to the board, she intends to work to replace concrete and asphalt surfaces throughout Cook County with permeable materials that allow rain to soak into the ground rather than flow directly into the nearest waterway.
Newcomer Garcia, an attorney and director of community affairs for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, would promote outreach initiatives to increase taxpayer awareness of what the district does, and he would give special attention to efforts to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan.
Also running are Republican Shundar Lin and Green Party candidates Tammy Felicia Vinson and Christopher Anthony.
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Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.