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EDITORIAL: Splitting up the region’s sanitation board is an idea that stinks

The biosolids train unloads solids conveyed from the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant to lagoons at the Lawndale Avenue Solids Management Area (LASMA) between the Des Plaines River and Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Bedford Park and Willow Springs, Tuesday afternoon, May 8, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Just as we’re making progress on cleaning up Chicago area waterways and reducing flooding, a bad idea that could set back all those gains is brewing in Springfield.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, would split the countywide nine-member governing commission of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District into nine separate districts, each represented by a single elected member chosen by the voters of each district. The proposed legislation passed unanimously out of a House committee two weeks ago on a 10-0 vote and has advanced to a second reading.

Someone needs to dam up this bill before it goes any farther.

The water district manages stormwater and wastewater throughout Cook County. Both stormwater and wastewater would cross any arbitrary borders created by splitting the district into nine pieces, essentially severing the management of the waterways. It’s easy to see how a commissioner in an upstream district would place little priority on flooding problems downstream in another district.

Members representing individual districts would be induced to argue in favor of resources for their own districts instead of focusing on where the worst flooding takes place. Splitting up the district also would make it easier for special interests to influence an election in just two or three districts so they could, for example, push for development in low-lying areas and potentially push flooding problems onto someone else.

The bill also calls for each district to elect a commissioner once every six years. That’s a long term for a member of any local government. Under the current structure, voters get to elect three commissioners once every two years.

The MWRD board has passed a resolution opposing the idea, and some legislators have said they agree it would be counterproductive.

Springfield should listen to them and sink this bill.

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