The Chicago Tribune published this letter submitted by a coalition of regional water advocates, including MPC, on March 15, 2011.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) is at a pivotal point in recruiting new leadership to manage the Chicago area’s vital stormwater and wastewater resources. The search process for a visionary and talented new executive director should be open, national and exceedingly thorough. Given the magnitude of the challenges, the individual selected must be second to none.
The reversal of the Chicago River and construction of the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, more than a century ago, are among the most impressive engineering feats in history. The state created the Sanitary District of Chicago to undertake this massive endeavor for health and environmental reasons, but the added economic benefits made the region what it is today. Given the integral role the Sanitary District played in shaping Chicago’s success, the mission of its direct descendant, MWRD, has never been more important than it is right now.
MWRD’s Stickney Plant is the largest water treatment facility in the world, handling millions of gallons a day of Cook County’s waste and stormwater. The Deep Tunnel’s reservoir system, part of our region’s last line of defense for preventing most floods, is not yet done. Major floods occur far too often already, and catastrophic storms like the one that pounded the region last summer will only become more common. Even though the Chicago River is cleaner than it was 40 years ago, further investment is needed before the river can truly be the healthy heart of the city. Meanwhile, water scarcity in other parts of the country gives the Chicago region an economic edge for the future. Depending, that is, on how well we manage our Lake Michigan and other water resources, as well as our water-related infrastructure.
We are at a decisive moment. Over the past few years, the MWRD has seen significant changes in leadership. The search for a new executive director must be exacting to identify someone with the technical skills to handle critical flooding challenges and timely completion of the Deep Tunnel, the vision to develop a robust green infrastructure strategy to reduce polluted runoff, and a commitment to fostering and strengthening partnerships with city and suburban officials to accomplish mutual goals of flood reduction and waterway protection.
The Chicago region is a world leader on many environmental fronts. With proactive, collaborative, and visionary leadership, MWRD could likewise make the region, once again, the water management trailblazer it was born to be.
Gerald W. Adelmann
President and CEO
Metropolitan Planning Council
President and Co-Founder
Center for Neighborhood Technology
Friends of the Chicago River
Howard A. Learner
Environmental Law and Policy Center