Cameron ‘Cam’ Davis, Democratic candidate for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner
He is currently a commissioner at the MWRD.
Cameron “Cam” Davis
Running for: Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Political/civic background: Democrat
Occupation: Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
Education: Chicago-Kent College of Law, JD, Certification in Env. & Energy Law, Boston University, BA, International Relations, New Trier High School
Campaign website: camdavis.org
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the county. Cameron “Cam” Davis submitted the following responses:
What new strategies would you develop to reduce the impact of stormwater on our area’s sewage, flood control and water systems?
As President Barack Obama’s point person for Great Lakes, I’ve worked all over the Midwest on reducing sewage impacts. As commissioner at MWRD, I’ve helped lead the effort to amend our Watershed Management Ordinance to ensure we reduce flooding. The more we hold back on our property, the less we flood our neighbors, our communities and even ourselves. I’ve also been a strong advocate for green infrastructure that complements our traditional infrastructure.
What role should the MWRD play in addressing climate change?
Did you know that we as MWRD taxpayers pay some $40 million in energy bills and we mostly rely on coal, gas, and nuclear energy? Burning coal and gas for fuel contributes to climate change and air pollution. So, we’re actually paying to pollute our air and put future generations at risk. That doesn’t make sense. As commissioner, I’m working to pivot MWRD toward more reliance on renewable (e.g., solar, wind) and recoverable (e.g., biogas from our waste streams) sources of energy. And that will bring our energy bills down in the long run, too.
The MWRD is the second largest landowner in Cook County. What is the ideal disposition of property owned by the district that is not needed for direct corporate purposes?
If MWRD land isn’t critical to its mission of protecting public health and the waterways under its jurisdiction, I’m open to its transfer as long as it would remain public and as open space in perpetuity. Cook County needs more, not less, open space for us, our children, our families and our quality of life.
What should the MWRD’s role be in reducing combined sewer overflows?
We need to continue on the path of eliminating combined sewer overflows, which mix stormwater with raw sewage to hurt fish, wildlife, recreation and public health. MWRD’s role should be to reduce these overflows under its own jurisdiction while working with fellow municipalities to take steps to also reduce stormwater. We all have a responsibility to protect one another.
How do you see the role of wastewater treatment agencies changing over the next 10 years?
As commissioner, I am pressing for us to prioritize communities disproportionately impacted by flooding, odor and toxics. Utilities like MWRD should also be recovering more of its waste and turning it into valuable resources, like energy and fertilizer. I also believe we can make better use of MWRD land, expanding community-based uses that reduce flooding while allowing neighborhoods to get non-commercial value from MWRD land, such as community gardening, forestation to reduce carbon, and increased recreation.
The MWRD is part of a multi-agency group exploring ways to keep chlorides out of waterways. Is the MWRD doing enough to push this issue forward? Please explain.
We should be doing more. As commissioner, I’ve raised serious questions about why we are spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on litigation to give us regulatory exemptions from road salt standards when we could be putting more of that money to use to find effective alternatives to chlorides and otherwise reduce the amount of road salts that flow into the waterways we all love.
Do you support installing disinfection technology at Stickney, the world’s largest wastewater treatment plant? Please explain.
For more than 20 years, dating to my time as President & CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, I’ve been a strong proponent of disinfection at MWRD’s treatment plants. But just over the past few months, I’ve hit the pause button because new research suggests that disinfection at treatment plants may be contributing to increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics, which is turning into an imminent public health risk. In the long run, we don’t want to solve some public health problems while creating other, potentially more harmful public health threats.
How would you improve the phosphorus-removal efforts now underway at the MWRD? Do you think this important? Why or why not?
As an MWRD commissioner, I just voted for MWRD to assess what other sources of phosphorus so that we can develop strategies for reducing them. Nutrients like phosphorus can result in “hypoxia” or oxygen depletion in our waterways, which is bad for fish. The assessment will identify other sources we can reduce so that it doesn’t enter our waterways in the first place. I’m a big fan of the work staff at MWRD are doing to help advance Illinois’ nutrient reduction strategy in partnership with organizations like the Cook County Farm Bureau.
What is the appropriate role of the MWRD in addressing the problem of Asian carp and other invasive species in Chicago area waterways?
While I served as President Obama’s point person for Great Lakes restoration, I co-chaired the federal Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. We have invested tens of millions of dollars as taxpayers in keeping silver and bighead carp from invading the Great Lakes. I have advocated for MWRD engineers to help plan, design and advise on plans to keep these fish from getting into Lake Michigan. In its March 10, 2019, editorial, the Sun-Times backed the idea. This is an issue that’s near and dear to me because of my work while with the Obama Administration.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
My great, great, great grandfather, Levi Davis, was friends with Lincoln for more than 25 years. They both served in Springfield together, were railroad lawyers together, and raised their families together. Levi had three sons who served in the Civil War fighting against slavery. In fact, we have a copy of a letter from Lincoln recommending that his son (my great, great grandfather) be promoted to lieutenant in the Illinois infantry. The relationship was so strong and long, that I even wrote a book called Confluence about it. Today I have a portrait of my ancestor, who was promoted after Lincoln’s recommendation, on the wall in my MWRD office to remind me that my ancestors and so many other veterans have put their lives on the line for all of us.
So, sorry Sun-Times Ed Board, my favorite historical figure is still Lincoln, but because of my family’s personal connection to him, not just because of what’s in the history books. If you reject my answer, I’ll skip to Harold Washington for his ability to bring people together here in our region.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
My wife Katelyn and I are still big fans of The West Wing even though it aired for the first time 20 years ago. The show has its flaws but is a great reminder — that we need today more than ever — about why real political leadership is so important.