by Guest Blogger Debra Shore, commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago is an obscure agency with a vital mission: protecting the water supply for millions of Cook County residents and managing stormwater. It’s an agency with a storied past – reversing the Chicago River to keep sewage out of Lake Michigan – and big challenges in the future.
Yet, if you had gone to sleep in 1975 and woke up 30 years later, while whole sectors of our society have changed dramatically – music and video, computers and publishing – sewage treatment has stayed basically the same.
Happily, that’s changing and MWRD is remaking itself into a “resource recovery” agency for the 21st century. The things that we used to consider waste – the methane gas generated by the treatment process, phosphorus in the wastewater, heat and sludge – all these have value and the MWRD is in the process of finding ways to capture and monetize that value.
In early October, the District launched a major nutrient recovery process to remove phosphorus from treated wastewater (where it causes algae growth and pollution in rivers and streams) and turn it into a slow-release fertilizer that we can sell.
Neat! Our chief engineer has plans for MWRD to become energy neutral in a decade. That will allow us to devote $50 million annually to other urgent needs.
When I ran for a seat on the board seven years ago, I was the first person in 20 years to have any kind of conservation background (go figure.) But I believe water is going to be “the” issue in years to come and MWRD has a key role to play in managing our precious freshwater resources.
I started preaching the virtues of green infrastructure, resource recovery, sustainability, and preparing for climate change.
None of these changes are due to my efforts alone, but I also know that I’ve helped to move the agency in a progressive direction, joined by more environmentally minded colleagues like Commissioners Kari Steele and Mariyana Spyropoulos.