Our Illinois Green Party candidates for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago are running on a unified platform of issues specific to the MWRD and its Board of Commissioners:
Climate Change and Flood Readiness
Astonishingly, the words "climate change" do not appear in the MWRD Strategic Business Plan, which was prepared by the Board of Commissioners in 2015 and amended in 2017.
This is a glaring omission of the number one issue facing our planet. Chicago's water supply -- and therefore its wastewater management -- is only going to increase in importance as global climate change affects more vulnerable supplies. In addition to direct effects on the water cycle, climate change is also almost certain to cause substantial migration to water-rich cities like Chicago in the coming century, with a corresponding increase in both wastewater generation and inhabited/paved land.
Green Party candidates will pursue an update to the Strategic Business Plan that puts climate change readiness at the forefront of the MWRD's mission. We will work to protect and strengthen the 2013 Cook County Watershed Management Ordinance, and we will call for regularly-updating standards that take into account both the increasing pavement cover of Cook County and the likely impacts of global climate change.
Additionally, Green Party candidates will oppose measures that would weaken flood-preparation standards or allow "fast-tracked" construction to begin before flood-control measures have been approved. The MWRD must hold developers responsible for the floodwater impact of every project.
Oversight and Accountability
We strongly believe that single-party control of an elected board is an obstacle to transparency. The all-Democrat Board of Commissioners draws its support from the same machine politics that have made "Chicago" a worldwide synonym for "corruption."
The fact that the MWRD felt comfortable hiring the children of two of its elected Commissioners as $100,000/year administrative assistants speaks volumes about the leadership culture of an all-Democrat Board. (Both children were hired within a year of their respective parents' election to the Board of Commissioners.) Green Party members on the board would serve as a check on Chicago's worst political impulses, providing a voice against obvious cronyism and nepotism.
Greens on the Board of Commissioners will work to provide the public with accurate, up-to-date information on MWRD spending and projects. As an employer of almost 2,000 workers, with a financial position of over $4 billion, the MWRD represents a massive taxpayer investment -- and that investment should not be managed by a single political party's representatives.
We further support the appointment of an independent, legally-empowered, and fully-funded Inspector General's office for the MWRD. Independent oversight is a simple, practical necessity for a taxpayer-funded organization of the MWRD's size.
Deep Tunnel was -- and is -- an impressive feat of civil engineering, but concrete tunnels and quarried reservoirs aren't enough to handle Chicago's flooding. Engineering and environmental science have advanced substantially since the 1970s, and we now know that comprehensive rainwater management requires a natural infrastructure of soil, rocks, plants, algae, wildlife, and other organic resources.
Green Party candidates seek a forward-looking investment in "green infrastructure," including reclaimed wetlands and non-concrete waterways, on the same regional scale as the Deep Tunnel project. We recognize that a comprehensive development plan would involve many civic agencies beyond the MWRD, but we are prepared to be the leading voices and advocates for significant, county-wide development of natural flood prevention infrastructure.
Pilot programs and local floodwater prevention development could begin immediately on the substantial land that the MWRD owns and operates. The MWRD is a major landowner, and we oppose the leasing of MWRD land for private development. MWRD-owned lands that are not being used for waste treatment infrastructure should be put to use in water management and flood prevention, rather than rented out for commercial use.
Local Hiring and Contracting
The MWRD is responsible for millions of dollars in government contracts every year, and millions more in staff salaries.
Green Party candidates believe that MWRD spending should stay within the district. We will prioritize the hiring of local workers, and the awarding of contracts to locally-owned businesses.
The Greater Chicago area contains hundreds of communities that are in desperate need of both infrastructure improvement and steady, fair-paying jobs. We believe that the MWRD can -- and should -- provide both.
Safe Use & Disclosure of Biosolids
One inevitable byproduct of the waste treatment process: "biosolids," or in simpler terms, treated sewage sludge.
The MWRD currently distributes biosolids under the misleading (and largely meaningless) label "exceptional quality compost." The Green Party supports the responsible use of biosolids as a source of plant nutrients, but we will demand clear and simple labeling of biosolids and biosolids-derived products.
We will further demand a clear and publicly-available plan for all public uses of biosolids, including in parks and near other children's play areas.