On Feb. 23, Cam Davis appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in the March 2018 primary:
My name is Cam Davis and I’m a candidate for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s Bradford vacancy write-in. My background is I was President Obama’s Great Lakes point person for both terms. Before that I was the president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, which is headquartered right here in our great city of Chicago. I’m a Clean Water Act attorney I’ve litigated for the National Wildlife Federation and taught at the University of Michigan law school, so I’ve dedicated my entire professional career to the public interest of water.
I have several district needs and priorities, all for the citizens of Cook County. One of them is I want to make sure we are reducing flooding and basement back ups. As somebody who grew up with flooding in their basement and river reversals that made our beaches dirty so that we couldn’t go swimming as kids, I want to make sure that I’m providing the leadership necessary for the district to keep reducing flooding and basement back ups.
Another priority is to make sure that we are doing more green infrastructure work to help promote open space and the use of land to help make our rivers and lake cleaner, and do that by promoting and supporting green jobs.
One of my other priorities is to promote clean, high wage jobs from the district. One of the things that’s so vital is high wage jobs for the middle class here in the region, which is just a key ingredient to clean water for all of us that live here.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates running for commissioner of the MWRD a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the Chicago area. Cam Davis submitted the following responses to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: The new Riverwalk has made the Chicago River a popular recreation destination, but surveys show that the river’s water still contains high levels of bacteria from sewage. What further steps should the MWRD take to improve the quality of the river’s water? Is the public being sufficiently informed on this matter, particularly as it relates to public health?
ANSWER: While I was with the Obama Administration, we at the U.S. EPA created a rule requiring water treatment agencies like MWRD to disinfect regular flows and to notify the public about sewage overflows. The public needs this information about what’s in the water so we can all be part of the solution.
Running for: Democratic nomination for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (write in)
Political/civic background: Democrat
Occupation: Vice President, GEI Consultants
Education: Law Degree, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law (Certification in Environmental & Energy Law); Boston University (B.A. in International Relations); New Trier High School.
Campaign website: camdavis.org
QUESTION: Could the MWRD do a better job of working with other government agencies in the Chicago-area to manage watersheds? If so, how would you make that happen? What innovations at other sewage districts across the country would you like to bring to Chicago?
ANSWER: MWRD has made good progress. It can also do more. I want the Chicago Metro area to be the green infrastructure capital of the world, because green infrastructure doesn’t just provide a win-win. It provides a win x 6:
Reduces flooding that causes property damage
Improves water quality around our beaches and rivers
Provides open space
Supports jobs and job training
In some instances, may support space for people to grow food and address some of our “food deserts.”
How many solutions do you know that help address six needs at once?
Cities like Milwaukee and Philadelphia are doing innovative work to steward their water. As MWRD commissioner I can help push our region to be even better, stronger and more resilient, especially working with the park districts and Forest Preserve District.
QUESTION: The MWRD is Cook County’s second largest landowner. The Sun-Times and the BGA have reported on troubling pollution seeping or otherwise being emitted from MWRD properties in recent years. What more can be done to ensure that companies leasing land are good environmental stewards?
ANSWER: For decades I’ve believed in and written federal law to implement the “polluter pays principle” so that responsible parties pay for cleanup costs where they can be identified. MWRD needs to prioritize identifying where contamination is coming from and work with state and federal agencies to use that information to take enforcement action, plain and simple. As an environmental attorney, I believe good enforcement means we as taxpayers shouldn’t be paying cleanup costs. MWRD can document violations and provide that to state and federal agencies, and bring enforcement actions itself. More targeted monitoring by MWRD will help keep taxpayers – my family included – off the hook where they never should have been on the hook in the first place…
QUESTION: Do you support the changes made in the revised Watershed Management Ordinance? What would you have included? What would you have left out?
ANSWER: The Watershed Management Ordinance (WMO) has been an important tool to make sure new development and redevelopment in Cook County does not contribute to flooding. The green infrastructure credits have resulted in significant capture of rain, keeping it out of the sewers.
I would have included a requirement for a comprehensive, independent review of the WMO – how it’s working. Are the municipalities that have been given authority to implement the WMO doing so in accordance with the requirements? Are there new technologies that would support even more stringent stormwater release rates, etc. We shouldn’t rely solely on MWRD itself to report on the success of the WMO.
QUESTION: Do you think the board of commissioners is sufficiently knowledgeable about the corporate purpose of the MWRD? Is the board properly informed on issues that come before it?
ANSWER: We can do better. For example, MWRD’s board and staff need to make decisions now for a climate that will keep changing for a long time, such as more intense storms. No one has a crystal ball, but as MWRD commissioner I’d plan for 50 years out, 100 years out, and even longer. By the time the next big storm comes and peoples’ basements flood, you can’t go back in time to do things differently. We must prevent damage from happening in the first place.
QUESTION: Because of heavy rain, billions of gallons of sewage-tainted water recently were dumped into Lake Michigan. This happens almost every year, but it is not good. Climate change, bringing stronger storms, will only make the problem worse. What would you do, as a commissioner, to limit the impact of climate change on our local waterways and our drinking water?
ANSWER: We don’t have enough money in the world to build enough tunnels to hold all the rain in from an intense storm. We have to increase the amount of land for storage capacity. As MWRD commissioner, I would dedicate more resources to expanding MWRD’s green infrastructure portfolio to reduce flooding, improve water quality, and support jobs.
QUESTION: With the first phase of the McCook Reservoir project now online, what next should the MWRD do to reduce the threat of sewage overflows? Do you support alternatives to maximizing the capacity of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan?
ANSWER: We should expand open space near our waterways to absorb rain and filter pollutants. This isn’t easy in a densely-built urban area, but we need to look for opportunities. More pervious pavement on streets and parking lots, along with green roofs will help, too.
QUESTION: What more should the MWRD be doing to prevent invasive species from moving into and through Chicago area waterways?
ANSWER: Provide technical and funding leadership for minimizing invasive species entry at Brandon Road and political support to move forward now.
QUESTION: What do you see as the MWRD’s role in controlling litter in our waterways?
ANSWER: We have to stop litter at its source. Working in partnership with Sierra Club, Friends of the Chicago River, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center, EPA’s “Trash Free Waters” program, NOAA’s Marine Debris program, we can educate the public about keeping our waterways clean.
The city of Chicago and other municipalities along the waterway should pool data to see where litter is coming from and support public education efforts to prevent litter from happening in the first place. In the past, skimmers have been used to collect trash from the river, but aren’t used now. It’s time to re-evaluate that.
Also, one thing you didn’t ask about is working with communities that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution. MWRD has an important role to play in reaching out to neighborhoods that are subjected to exposure more than other neighborhoods and in engaging non-traditional voices.