Eira L. Corral Sepúlveda
Running for: Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD)
Political party affiliation: Democrat
Political/civic background: I have over ten years of experience in municipal government as Clerk for the Village of Hanover Park. Good governance, transparency, and active community engagement with residents and businesses are the highlights of my public service. As a three term elected board member, my leadership has strengthened Hanover Park’s legacy in environmentalism as a Tree City USA and through Arbor Day initiatives that emphasize diversity, inclusion and global impact.
I was elected at 23 as Village Clerk for Hanover Park but even before being elected I have been active in identifying diverse candidates in Hanover Park. I lead efforts to elect the first African American male trustee, the first Muslim trustee, and the first Latina and formerly undocumented youth trustee, the latter two being millenial women. Additionally, in the last ten years, I have helped to elect diverse and key democrat leaders: now Senator Tammy Duckworth to Congress, Raja Krishnamoorthi to Congress, Cristina Castro as State Senator, and recently I am very proud to have helped elect Kevin Morrison who is the first openly gay Commisioner in Cook County.
Previously, I worked as Media Relations and Field Coordinator for the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI), a national organization focused on civic engagement and leadership development. My efforts with USHLI engaged leaders as high school & college students, professionals and elected officials throughout the country. I was also a part of engaging youth leaders to register over 20,000 voters before the historic the 2008 election of President Obama.
Currently, I am a board member of the Greater Elgin Family Care Center and also appointed to the Illinois Census Commission, which has lead me engage with Hard To Count Communities throughout the region. I have served in regional municipal government organizations: Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) Human Relations Committee, Metro Mayors Conference (MMC) Diversity Taskforce, and the Northwest Municipal Conference.
My community involvement throughout the region focuses on inclusive community development and civic engagement with the following organizations: Latino Policy Forum, Habitat for Humanity, Illinois Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Northwest Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Rainbow PUSH, Hanover Park Cultural Inclusion & Diversity Committee, and the Hanover Park Sister Cities Committee.
Occupation: Elected Village Clerk for Hanover Park, IL
University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, 2010
Leadership Academy Certification from the Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
DePaul University Bachelor of Arts, 2007
Double Major: Political Science and Latino & Latin American Studies.
Double Minor: Community Service Studies and Commercial Spanish.
Campaign website: eira4water.com
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. Eira L. Corral Sepúlveda 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 District has to work to expand partnerships with local units of government to add capacity to the sewer system improvements. These investments can be costly for small municipalities and greater attention needs to be placed on providing support for funding opportunities. Awareness and education is needed on programs provided by IL EPA Wastewater/Stormwater Loans program through the State Revolving Fund (SRF) and the US EPA and the US EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). I will advocate for the state to increase funding to the State Revolving Loan Fund and that low-interest loans continue to be funded with an additional focus on economically challenged communities. The state must fulfill the recommended funding level recommendation of $6.5 billion by 2036 to reach the public health goals of the Clean Water Act.
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?
Having MWRD, as well as other County, State, and Federal government agencies downtown ensures the most equitable and centralized access to all residents throughout Cook County. However, if there are proposals for other centralized locations that could accommodate our operations, I would be open to reviewing the cost effectiveness of such a plan.
3. What has the MWRD learned from the pandemic? Should some employees work remotely permanently? Can the district manage with fewer employees?
Initially, as new information broke about the novel Coronavirus, many panicked that our water sources would be impacted. MWRD assured the public that they could trust in our sewer water treatment process. We have all learned the strong importance of public health and the role MWRD plays in ensuring that our water sources are clean and protected.
Then as we started to adjust and shelter in place, our region was hit once again with record breaking precipitation and storms that caused flooding and sewage backups throughout Chicagoland. We know that low-income and black/brown communities are most disproportionately impacted by recurring floods and now these same communities were most vulnerable as they were also dealing with the disproportionate impact of COVID19 cases and deaths. Equity in our infrastructure investments must be a matter of public health priority.
The pandemic also required government agencies to quickly reformat our emergency response plans and adapt to remote sites for government workers to support continued government operations. MWRD must reflect on the lessons learned through this crisis and evolve in how we approach cyber security, the government workforce and our culture around “remote work”.
The full economic impact of the pandemic is still being revealed and like many government agencies throughout the country, MWRD may find itself needing to reassess budgets due to a decrease in revenues. I support a thorough evaluation of personnel levels.
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 stormwater?
I continue to remain concerned that Climate Change is impacting our region with wetter weather and extreme weather events that make it difficult for the district to effectively manage storm water with our current green and grey infrastructure. The completion of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) in 2029 coupled with nature based solutions will reduce flooding and eliminate combined sewer overflows (CSOs), except in severe weather storms. While we have the technology to reduce the flooding and CSOs after storms, what we need is greater support in funding from the State and Federal government and greater public awareness, engagement and trust, especially from disenfranchised communities.
As the second largest landowner in Cook County MWRD must prioritize conservation, habitat restoration, stormwater capture, and recreational use in its land management decisions. I am open to the use of MWRD land to support clean job hubs and green stormwater infrastructure. And I support collaborating with agencies and community organizations in community-driven and/or conservation uses for MWRD property. Prioritizing projects that have green infrastructure job training is also a strategy to create community buy in.
5. Could the district play a role in monitoring waste water for signs of disease outbreaks? Please explain.
Yes, MWRD could play a role in monitoring wastewater for disease outbreaks. Throughout the country communities are using technology to fight the heroin epidemic and also to detect COVID19. By sampling wastewater for RNA particles of the Coronavirus found in bodily fluids, we could determine early on where flare ups will be occurring. This is important as testing is not widely available, results can delay, and symptoms can take days to demonstrate, or for asymptomatic carriers they never do. Additionally, we can start mapping out the genetic evolution of the Coronavirus and keep track of mutations and different strains impacting our communities. Monitoring wastewater allows for MWRD to partner with other government agencies in creating efficient and effective public health policies and allocating helping these agencies rapidly allocate resources to hot spot areas within our region.
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?
The pandemic is no excuse for the recklessness exhibited by the Trump administration. The MWRD must strengthen its partnership with the Illinois EPA in demanding that the federal government meet its own obligation at enforcing federal regulations. As a local unit of government, we do not have jurisdiction of enforcement over the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System NPDES permits, but we have been a model. Throughout the pandemic and with a reduced workforce the MWRD Water Treatment Plants have continued to operate and meet our NPDES permit obligations.
Furthermore, the MWRD could also partner with municipalities to adopt local ordinances and standards to promote resilience to the region’s heavy rain events. While MWRD does not have the jurisdiction to require that municipalities push forward these initiatives, it can continue to educate and also provide technical assistance to municipalities looking to update their municipal codes. I am also encouraged by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP’s) inclusion of sustainability measures in municipal technical assistance grants and MWRD should work hand in hand with CMAP. The MWRD should also expand its pilot program and provide ongoing support to municipalities with technical assistance by using our internal engineering expertise.
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 Control Plan for all municipalities?
Reducing the impact of stormwater on our area’s sewage, flood control and water systems, will require the maintenance, replacement, and/or retrofitting of dilapidated water infrastructure through grey and green investments. The Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) will need to be supported by additional measures. I also support the following:
- Investing in IOT, or artificial intelligence technology, that allows us to communicate smarter within the district, but also with other agencies, and the public. This will also allow us to communicate in real time with the public about flood concerns and water quality conditions after storms.
- Develop a statewide water management plan for all of our water assets, interagency data collection, data sharing, research, watershed planning, development decisions, capital improvements of identified collaborative cost effective infrastructure projects, waterway plans, and strategies to protect our waterways from invasive species. Our water resource management is currently fragmented. I will also advocate for the state to play a larger role in building collaborative partnerships with stakeholders and regional partners in all impacted watersheds impacted by the District.
- I will push for environmental justice to be a top priority by increasing the implementation of green infrastructure. Climate disruption is causing more severe and frequent storm events, increasing flooding and contributing to the degradation of our rivers and streams. Low income communities and historically disinvested black and brown communities with outdated infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to flooding and basement back-ups. These communities are also less equipped to prevent and recover from storm events, therefore bearing the greatest burden of the deficiencies in our stormwater management system. Green infrastructure, which includes permeable pavement, rain gardens, and other techniques also provides an opportunity to engage today’s youth and build a pipeline for the future workforce in green job training.
8. How can the MWRD manage its land holdings better?
I support an evaluation of our Comprehensive Land Use Policy, which was last updated over a decade ago. The review will help the MWRD assess the best use of land and if there is any surplus. It should also include sustainability measures, as well as, guide consistency and environmental goals in the language for leasing agreements.
I also support collaborative efforts with community based organizations that engage our residents in land use planning decisions. It is important to emphasize the need to create trust and equity in distributing resources to underserved and disinvested communities in this engagement process.