Kimberly Neely du Buclet, Democratic nominee for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner
She has been an MWRD commissioner since 2018.
Kimberly Neely du Buclet
Running for:Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Political party affiliation:Democrat
Political/civic background:State Representative 2011 - 2013
MWRD Commissioner 12/2018 - present
Former Museum of Contemporary Art Women’s Board
Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation Board
Former AIDS Foundation of Chicago Board of Directors
Former Personal PAC Board of Directors
The Links, Inc.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
University of Chicago Black MBA Association
University of Chicago Laboratory Schools Alumni Board
The GirlFriends, Inc.
Quad Cities Community Development Corporation
Occupation:Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign, BS Marketing
University of Chicago, MBA
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the Chicago area. Kimberly Neely du Buclet submitted the following responses:
1. Would it make sense for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to consolidate and manage the water systems of struggling municipalities that can’t afford to make upgrades? Please explain.
The MWRD provides water treatment services for Chicago and 128 suburban municipalities and communities as well as 91% of the land area of Cook County. However it is the legislature, not the MWRD that ultimately determines who the MWRD serves. I am always looking at new ways we can save taxpayer dollars at MWRD. If a municipality requested assistance and it is permitted by law, we should consider consolidating MWRD water treatment services with those affected municipalities.
2. Should the MWRD move out of its headquarters at 100 E. Erie St. to put that valuable property back on the tax rolls? Why or why not?
MWRD Office Building at 100 E. Erie Street and several floors of an Annex building across the street serve as the hub for the District’s operations across the county. I would support considering whether moving would make fiscal sense for the District and taxpayers. Any decision on a move could affect District operations. Such a decision would require a large capital expenditure and must be thoroughly studied and reviewed before a fiscally sound decision could be made.
3. What has the MWRD learned from the pandemic? Should some employees work remotely permanently? Can the district manage with fewer employees?
MWRD continues to follow all CDC as well as local and state health guidelines as it relates to the COVID Pandemic. With that said, we have also used our Business Continuity Plan and the Pandemic Appendix to guide our operations since the onset COVID pandemic. We continue to learn from this unprecedented and unrelenting situation. We are an essential service agency that has successfully operated non stop since the onset of the pandemic. One piece of learning is that social distancing is much more difficult to implement in our Main Office Building facility vs our plants, where there is more open air environments and space to work in.
We have also learned from our telecommuting experience that many functions can be done remotely although person to person contact and human interactions are sometimes necessary. Although we are fully functioning as many staff telecommute, we look forward to getting back to some level of “normalcy”. I expect this experience will impact the MWRD telecommuting policy in the long run. But at the moment our focus is on keeping the District operating at full capacity and learning about telecommuting and making needed adjustments to our telecommuting policy. As with other agencies, MWRD has also found new ways to automate and streamline work processes.
4. This year, the Chicago area experienced its wettest May ever — for the third year in the row. Has that changed your thinking about how the district handles storm water? Would you support the use of MWRD property to absorb storm water?
With climate change and increased frequency and intensity of rainfall, I believe the District needs to invest more in water infrastructure and green infrastructure (GI) plans to help store more water safely in our neighborhoods and communities during these unprecedented storm events. Urban flooding in the Chicago area is mostly caused by large storm events and excessive runoff. This, combined with no viable means for water to be safely transported out or stored in the community causes water to stay in place and flood communities. Communities can be thought of like a bath tubs with a drain connected to them. Just like a bathtub, if more water flows into a community than flows out, water overflows and cause basement and sewer backups. Decades of disinvestments in infrastructure in communities of color has led to deteriorated or inadequate water infrastructure for water storage and removal.
Increased investments are needed in traditional sewer infrastructure to allow for greater outflows of water and more green infrastructure to increase communities ability to store rainwater. GI allows excess storm water to slowly seep into the soil or evaporate into the air, which ultimately reduces the amount of stormwater that enters our sewers and water ways and can help control flooding. GI also offers environmental, social, and economic benefits. It can increase property values, beautify neighborhoods, cool extreme summer temperatures, support natural habitat, create local green jobs, and enhance public space. Increased storage on MWRD property won’t help communities if their water infrastructure can’t handle increased rainfall we’ve seen over the past few years because of climate change.
5. Could the district play a role in monitoring waste water for signs of disease outbreaks? Please explain.
Yes. Studies show that wastewater can be tested for RNA from the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The RNA is in the wastewater of infected hot spots. MWRD is holding discussions with several academic institutions on how to develop an infectious disease surveillance system for the COVID virus. The plan would be to use the information gathered to determine the prevalence of the virus, hot spots, and to provide for the early detection of the re-emergence of the virus in the Chicago area.
6. This spring, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it essentially is allowing polluters to stop reporting violations of federal regulations if, in the polluter’s view, the coronavirus is to blame. What should be MWRD’s response to that? What role should MWRD assume in making sure that municipalities have strong and enforceable National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits?
In March the U.S. EPA said it would not seek penalties for noncompliance with routine testing, reporting and compliance obligations in situations where it agreed that COVID-19 caused the noncompliance. However at the end of June the, US EPA said it would end this policy after August 31, 2020.
Also, in Illinois the US EPA shares its enforcement authority for National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits with the Illinois EPA, not the MWRD. The Illinois EPA can and does use its authority to monitor and enforce permit compliance and it should make sure the municipalities have strong and enforceable NPDES permits.
7. In July, Chicagoans swamped City Hall with complaints about flooding. Also, new flood maps indicate that more areas of the city and region now are prone to flooding. What is your plan for responding to this growing problem? Should TARP be the Long-Term Control Plan for all municipalities?
The District’s Stormwater Master Plan will identify possible future projects to reduce urban flooding. The District’s goal with the Stormwater Master Planning Program is to identify projects and to empower communities to address urban flooding on their own by giving them a head start with the identification of projects and policies through the master plans. Moreover, it’s important to recognize that MWRD only has stormwater authority outside of City of Chicago limits. Under state law, the City of Chicago is largely responsible for the development, funding and implementation of its stormwater management.
8. How can the MWRD manage its land holdings better?
I support both the permanent protection of suitable MWRD lands that are contiguous to waterways as open space while allowing community-driven uses by long term leases in compliance with MWRD leasing policy and the state’s leasing statute.
MWRD should also ensure that its tenants are not the source of pollution into the Chicago waterways and sanction those who violate regulations. The MWRD should also have the ability to break leases with tenants who are not being good environmental stewards.
Leasing keeps the property under the District’s supervision and protection while allowing development to take place. I think we need to increase public transparency and decrease some of the complexity in in the District’s leasing system. The District should make lands more accessible for public use and that the leasing process to private parties for private benefit be more transparent and open to public for comment.