Chicago Water Candidate Looks to FYI for Inspiration

QUESTION: Could the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (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?

Debra Shore, Chicago MWRD candidate and incumbent | Chicago Sun-Times
Debra Shore, Chicago MWRD candidate and incumbent | Chicago Sun-Times

ANSWER: Ideally, water needs to be understood and managed as one ecosystem, not separated into silos called drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater. The US Water Alliance is promoting an approach called “One Water”, which holds that all water should be managed in a sustainable, inclusive, integrated way. The MWRD has authority over two of the three parts of Cook County’s water ecosystem, namely wastewater and stormwater, and it definitely should be working closely with municipalities that supply drinking water, including Chicago. We should not underestimate the complexities involved in trying to make the One Water approach a reality here in the Chicago area, but the potential benefits of the approach make it a worthwhile endeavor. At the very least, we can start by working to develop a better understanding of each agency’s environmental responsibilities. (MWRD gets calls from other agencies because they don’t know who is responsible for cleanups, for example.) MWRD can offer technical assistance and other resources to smaller municipalities to assist them in meeting regional goals for water quality; with the City of Chicago, MWRD can work as a partner in rethinking the Chicago area’s water future.

There are a number of innovations at other utilities that should be considered for implementation here in the Chicago region. As noted before, MWRD needs to promote stormwater plans for both watersheds and “sewersheds” to improve water quality and address runoff into the Chicago area waterways. The Front Yard Initiative developed by the Urban Conservancy in New Orleans, for instance, is an incentive program that reimburses eligible homeowners $2.50 per square foot of paving removed — up to 500 square feet — for a maximum of $1,250. This reduces runoff, allows groundwater recharge, improves resiliency, and has a host of other benefits. When we reduce the amount of stormwater and wastewater sent to MWRD treatment plants through conservation measures, the plants have a longer life, fewer chemicals are used for treatment, and less energy is consumed.

See Debra Shore’s full interview with the Chicago Sun-Times here.

Front Yard Initiative Links

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