Three Democrats compete for two-year term with Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
Three Chicago Democrats -- Tom Greenhaw, Martin Durkan and Andrew Seo -- debated how best to tackle flooding and wastewater treatment issues during an appearance before the Daily Herald editorial board as the contenders in the March 15 primary election to run for one 2-year term on the Cook County Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board.
Greenhaw, 29, became interested in water issues while he was an undergraduate student in Arizona, and eventually went through a sustainability program at the University of Chicago where he focused his research on increasing the rate of proper disposal of medication.
"I'm running for this position to continue the work I've already been doing," Greenhaw said.
Greenhaw is the founder of a retail technology company, Cashier Live.
Durkan, 45, a business representative with International Union Of Operating Engineers Local 150, said combating flooding is his No. 1 priority.
"I represent about 44 municipalities throughout Cook County and the collar counties," Durkan said of his union job. "I get an opportunity in my day-to-day activities to hear right from the horse's mouth from the suburban areas."
Durkan said he has worked in infrastructure for more than 25 years and wants to bring his hands-on experience to the board.
Seo, 29, worked as an MWRD engineer for 5½ years after a stint in water purification with Chicago's Department of Water Management.
"Modernization of our infrastructure -- that's why I'm running," Seo said. "We've got 100-year-old pipes that need to be replaced. That's going to create tons of jobs and opportunities for the Chicagoland area and it's also going to stop our flooding."
When it comes to flood prevention, Greenhaw said green infrastructure is a viable solution.
"At this point, the answer isn't to build bigger reservoirs or bigger tunnels especially with the time frame and the cost involved," Greenhaw said. "What I think we should be doing is focusing more on green infrastructure. Permeable pavement, green roofs, rain gardens, even rain barrels on a very small scale."
He said residents should receive incentives for using green infrastructure.
Durkan said the problem with incentive programs for things like rain barrels is that residents may not actually use the barrels. And with a city like Chicago, "there is very little room for green infrastructure," Durkan said. Green projects are also expensive, he added.
"I think you could look at different types of ideas to capture water and slow it down in smaller reservoir type things, natural grass, to hopefully catch some of the water and slow down the water getting into the (sewer) system that way," Durkan said.
Seo said permeable surfaces don't make sense for Cook County, which sits on land that was at one point swampy.
"Our water table is extremely high. There's only so much water that they can hold even if you use permeable pavement or green roofs or any other green infrastructure," Seo said.
Greenhaw advocated for a prescription mail-back program, to help keep pharmaceutical products out of the county's water supply.
Durkan said a mail-back program is a "fantastic idea," but he still likes drop-off events.
Seo has a different solution.
"I just think that money would be better spent if we incorporated membrane (filtration) technology to trap those pharmaceuticals from entering our water stream," Seo said.