If you live in Cook County, there’s an elected office on your ballot every two years that you may not have heard of, but that oversees a tremendous amount of taxpayer money: Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD).

The MWRD is a taxpayer-funded agency with an annual budget of over a billion dollars that’s responsible for wastewater treatment, flood prevention, and water quality testing in Cook County. The agency is overseen by an elected, nine-member Board of Commissioners—and under the current Commissioners, the agency’s record is one of political corruption, misspent tax dollars, and serious water quality concerns.

This year, there’s an exciting slate of five Green candidates running for the five MWRD Commissioner seats on the 2018 ballot:

  • Christopher Anthony – Ballot #56
  • Karen Roothaan – Ballot #57
  • Tammie Vinson – Ballot #58
  • Rachel Wales – Ballot #60
  • Geoffrey Cubbage – Ballot #62

Read on to find out more about the agency’s recent history, and why you should be voting Green for MWRD this November!

Kirie Treatment Plant, one of the MWRD's seven major treatment centers.

Kirie Water Reclamation Plant, one of the district’s seven wastewater treatment facilities.

1. It’s Time for a Change

Every Commissioner elected to the MWRD for the last twenty-plus years has come from the Cook County Democrats.

That’s led to stagnation and rubber-stamping on what’s supposed to be a deliberative, nine-member board. Instead of discussing and debating measures, the Board of Commissioners votes in unison to approve more than 99% of the measures before it.

There are serious, complicated decisions to be made about Chicago’s wastewater and flood management infrastructure. Taxpayers deserve a Board of Commissioners that will seriously consider costs and benefits to MWRD projects and spending, not just hand out contracts to well-connected friends and businesses.

In a normal election cycle, voters select three members for the nine-member Board of Commissioners—but due to vacancies, five of the nine seats will be on the ballot in 2018. That gives Cook County voters the chance to elect a whole new majority, all on one ballot!

2. The MWRD is Failing Its Core Missions

The mandate for the MWRD is a specific one: the agency is responsible for treating Cook County’s wastewater, managing and abating floods, and testing the Chicago Area Waterway System for harmful chemicals. The current Commissioners are coming up short on all three critical areas:

  • On wastewater management, we lag behind most other major metropolitan areas. Only two of the seven MWRD treatment plants use what’s called a tertiary disinfecting treatment—an industry-standard step to fully clean liquid discharge before it leaves the plant. Much of the Chicago Area Waterway System, especially on the South and West sides, is so polluted that the water is not safe for human contact.
  • On flooding, the MWRD relies on the Deep Tunnel system to keep sewers from filling up and overflowing into the waterways (or into streets and basements, and in extreme cases into Lake Michigan, the source of our drinking water). It’s not working. The Chicago Tribune examined MWRD records in 2017 and found that, on average, our sewers are overflowing and dumping untreated waste into Cook County waterways once every six days.
  • And on waterway testing, MWRD data from the previous two decades regularly shows levels of lead well above EPA/WHO action levels flowing downstream, but there’s no evidence that the reports ever prompted any kind of action or attempt to contact municipal water services about the possibility of contamination from lead pipes. What should have been a “canary in a coal mine” got buried in PDF data tables and ignored. The MWRD is also slow to report water quality data—the latest publicly-available annual water quality report is from 2015.

With a record of failure on all three of the agency’s core mission, neither the incumbents nor their party should be given unilateral control of the MWRD for yet another term.

Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, the oldest of the MWRD’s seven wastewater treatment facilities.

3. Corruption at the MWRD is an Open Secret

When people talk about corruption in Cook County government, the MWRD is an easy Exhibit A.

Start with the fact that two of the nine Commissioners employ their own children as $100,000/year administrative assistants, and it goes downhill from there.

The Greens for MWRD campaign found that, over the last five years, the majority of MWRD contract spending went to firms that donated to the incumbents’ election funds—over $722 million in contracts for those campaign donors, all told.

MWRD Commissioners are regularly evaluating multi-million dollar bids from companies that gave them thousands of dollars to help get them elected—and surprise surprise, those bids always get approved.

To make it even worse, some of the incumbents are lying to the public about their donations. One of the Democrats on the ballot this year, Debra Shore, has repeatedly told the press that her campaign voluntarily follows Cook County campaign finance limits—but even a cursory examination of the “Friends of Debra Shore” campaign records finds nearly 50 donations in violation of those limits.

Corruption will continue until Cook County voters start removing obviously and publicly corrupt elected officials at the ballot box. The MWRD is a great place to start.

4. Accountability Won’t Come from the Establishment

The MWRD has been in the news a lot lately, and none of it good.

There was a plant explosion in August that leveled a building, injured 10 workers, and still has not been fully explained to the public. Investigations and lawsuits are ongoing, but the Board of Commissioners is silent.

Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, following an explosion at the sludge concentration building.

Shortly before that, the Executive Director of the MWRD (the agency’s operating head, appointed by the Board of Commissioners) resigned abruptly under investigation, the subject of which the Board of Commissioners will not disclose to the public. He took with him $95,000 in severance pay for work he won’t be doing, and unless newly-elected Commissioners decide to make the subject of the investigation public after the 2018 elections, taxpayers will likely never know what happened.

And then there’s the land owned and administrated by the MWRD: nearly 10,000 acres of Cook County property, supposedly set aside for flood abatement and water treatment purposes. But what does it actually get used for? Frequently, for private, low-rate leases to politically connected businesses, including heavy, polluting, industrial use, especially on the South and West sides.

That puts Cook County in the unique and embarrassing position of having a taxpayer-funded agency responsible for keeping the water clean that rents its land out to known waterway polluters—and doing nothing when the tenants are found violating the terms of their sweetheart leases.

Politicians get away with whatever they think they can get away with. Until voters start pulling the lever for candidates from outside the Democrat slate, there’s no reason for anyone at the agency to change their behavior. The scandals will continue until the establishment at the MWRD feels some heat from the voters.

5. The Green Slate is Qualified & Ready for Day One

Each of the five Green candidates for MWRD in 2018 brings their own expertise to the table.

Combined, the slate has experience in everything from real estate to union organizing to applied mathematics to infrastructure oversight reporting—and of course, environmental science and water management! You can read more about the Green slate’s key issues and policy positions at our Issues page.

The Green Party is the only significant opposition in the party for this cycle. With two Republican candidates on the ballot for five seats (one of whom has run in previous cycles as a Democrat), the Greens for MWRD slate is the strongest and most qualified alternative for voters tired of all-Democrat control in Cook County.

If you’re tired of one-party rule and flagrant, open corruption at in Cook County government, cast your ballot for the full Green Party slate:

  • Christopher Anthony – Ballot #56
  • Karen Roothaan – Ballot #57
  • Tammie Vinson – Ballot #58
  • Rachel Wales – Ballot #60
  • Geoffrey Cubbage – Ballot #62

Early voting is now open in Cook County, and Election Day is November 6th. Vote Green!