Debra Shore: Candidate Profile

Metro. Water Reclamation District (Democrat)

  • Debra Shore, running for Metro. Water Reclamation District

    Debra Shore, running for Metro. Water Reclamation District

Updated 2/13/2018 12:20 PM

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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.

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City: Evanston


Twitter: @debrashore

Facebook: DebraShoreMWRD

Office sought:

Metro. Water Reclamation District

Age: 65

Family: Spouse: Kathleen Gillespie

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Son: Ben Smith, age 33

Occupation: Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

Education: B.A. Goucher College, Baltimore, MD

Master of Liberal Arts, Johns Hopkins University

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, Columbia College, Chicago

Certificate in Executive Education, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Civic involvement: Great Lakes Protection Fund, Board member (2009--present

Board Chair in 2010 and 2017)

Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership, Board member (2012 -- present

President 2015-2017)

Congregation Sukkat Shalom, Wilmette, IL (Board member 2011-2017, Chair 2015-2017)

Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute (Board member 2009- 2017


Chair 2011-2014)

University of Chicago Women's Board (Member, 1999 -- present)

Friends of the Forest Preserves (Founding Board member 1998-2006)

President John Stroger's Community Advisory Council on Land Management (Member 1997-2006(

Volunteer, North Branch Restoration Project (1992 -- present)

Elected offices held: Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (December 2006 -- present)

Questions & Answers

Why are you running for this office, whether for re-election or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what? What specific professional qualifications do you possess that would make you excel in this office?

I believe that water is going to be the single most important issue in years to come (in many places it already is) and that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) has a key role to play in managing two of the three parts of our freshwater ecosystem Ð namely, used water and stormwater. As a longtime conservation advocate and volunteer engaged in habitat restoration in the Cook County forest preserves since the early 1990s, I bring a firsthand knowledge of our region's ecosystems and of the organizations working to protect and restore biological diversity.

Since I joined the Board of Commissioners in December 2006, the MWRD has begun to see itself not only as a guardian of our precious fresh water supply but also as a vital resource in helping Cook County to become more resilient in the face of climate change, to promote ways to remake our urban landscape to capture water where it falls and keep it out of the sewers, and to address flooding and basement backups resulting from more intense rainstorms and outdated infrastructure. I believe our access to freshwater in Lake Michigan is both a strategic asset and an economic asset: the Chicago region can have a robust economy and a health ecology going forward if we recognize this and plan for it. I have worked with World Business Chicago and its offshoot called Current to leverage Chicago's world-class utilities, research institutions, industries, and innovation community for global environmental and economic impact.

If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?

I am especially proud of my work with Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin to draft and introduce the Safe Pharmaceutical Collection Ordinance to expand safe, secure collection sites for people to dispose of their unused or expired medicines so they do not flush them down the toilet (because MWRD cannot remove all these pharmaceuticals at the treatment plants) and so these meds don't accumulate at home. That ordinance was adopted unanimously and the Cook County Sheriff's Department has been expanding distribution of collection boxes. Last summer I introduced a resolution, also adopted unanimously by the MWRD Board, to pledge to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Paris Climate Accords. MWRD is on a path to become energy neutral in seven years.

Currently I am working with a number of my colleagues to establish an independent inspector general (IG) to provide additional independent oversight for MWRD contracts and to provide expert review of District policies and practices. I secured a commitment of $600,000 in the MWRD 2018 budget to support this initiative should the Board decide to establish an IG.

I strongly support MWRD's transformation into a resource recovery agency. Many substances that used to be considered ÒwasteÓ have value and the MWRD is now seeking to capture and monetize that value for the benefit of Cook County taxpayers and the environment. Among these resources are nutrients in the waste stream, biogas, biosolids (mixed with wood chips to produce a high-quality compost) and reuse of treated water.

Due to the old infrastructure of a combined sewage system, raw sewage may be released into rivers and the lake during a heavy rain. While efforts such as rain barrels are important, does the district have any long-term plans to address the underlying infrastructure issue?

The District's long-term control plan to reduce or eliminate CSOs is the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP, also known as Deep Tunnel), which has significantly reduced CSOs and flooding in a number of areas. However, several factors affect MWRD's ability to respond to, manage, and reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and reversals. Local sewer pipes that convey wastewater and stormwater are owned and must be maintained by individual municipalities, which often do not have resources to replace, repair or improve their systems. More intense storms -- a symptom of climate change -- are delivering more rain in less predictable and more localized events that overwhelm the capacity of local sewers to convey stormwater to the MWRD's interceptors and TARP dropshafts. Given the changing nature of rainstorms and the amount of impervious surface in Cook County, MWRD is exploring other ways to address big rain events. Its Watershed Management Ordinance, adopted in 2014, promotes installation of green infrastructure and sets limits on runoff rates to prevent future flooding problems. The District has a project using sensors to convey real-time data about sewer system capacity and is reconfiguring a 300,000-gallon cistern at a Housing Authority complex to store water during storms. It has a demonstration project with 40 homes in Chicago to install overhead sewers, check valves, and green infrastructure to reduce basement backups. And it is exploring installation of additional dropshafts to enhance the ability of TARP to capture stormwater and reduce CSOs.

For years, not one suburban Republican has been elected to the board. Should the board be elected by regional districts?

I must admit to some skepticism about single-member districts at MWRD. If our goal is the rational and intelligent formulation of water policy, we must draw boundary lines to serve that goal, reflecting the natural boundaries and interconnections of water systems. In my opinion, at-large representation is the system that comes closest to doing this.

Indeed, even at-large representation often falls short of the ideal for in a very real sense, water has no boundaries. Rain does not originate within the cities, counties, and watersheds where it falls. Water consumed within a given region does not stay there for very long. The Chicago-area waterways traverse ward and municipal boundaries. Often enough, political boundaries fail to have any relationship whatsoever to the way that water moves across the land.

Given MWRD's authority for stormwater management for all of Cook County, I believe that resources must be deployed where they are needed most and can do the most good. If commissioners were elected by district, there might be pressures to award contracts or divide resources by district instead of based on the landscape needs. (In October 2017, for instance, the area around O'Hare Airport recorded 8.70 inches of rain Ð the wettest October since 1954! Yet the area near Midway recorded nearly two inches more Ð 10.69 inches that same month.) It's important for members of the Board of Commissioners to take the balcony view when establishing policies and allocating resources, and I believe that is best served by at-large representation.

How do you rate the MWRD on transparency and the public's access to records? If you consider it adequate, please explain why. If you think improvements are needed, please describe them and why they are important

The MWRD has gotten high marks from the Civic Federation for putting its budget documents online and for adopting recommendations making its budget accessible and transparent. Recent changes in rules governing public comment at MWRD Board meetings Ð limiting comments to three minutes total and clustering them at the beginning of each meeting, rather than attached to individual agenda items of concern Ð are unduly restrictive.

The District's website, in my opinion, warrants improvement to make information about its operations, contracts, and employment more accessible and user-friendly.

More broadly, I have been one of the principal advocates for the establishment of an independent inspector general (IG) at the MWRD. The District awards contracts in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year and the annual budget has surpassed $1 billion with little independent oversight. Establishing an independent IG is a form of good governance will provide additional accountability and transparency, is likely to result in savings through greater efficiencies in District operations, and will provide expert review of District practices, processes and policies.

What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?

I'd want to encourage the District to explore ways to collaborate with municipalities to address flooding and basement backups, possibly by using District resources on private laterals (this would require a change in state law). Many of the problems with increased flow during rain events, especially at the plant in Hanover Park, are due to illegal connections or water infiltration into broken pipe on private laterals leading from homes and businesses to the sewer pipes. This increased flow means that treatment plants are using energy and chemicals to treat relatively clean rainwater when not necessary. Other municipalities, notably Milwaukee, have been able to collaborate with local governments to address these issues. I'd also like to see the District explore ways to provide incentives to individuals and businesses that install green infrastructure and thereby send less stormwater for the District to treat.

Finally, while the County admirably moved to expand pharmaceutical collection sites under the authority of the Cook County Sheriff in 2017, many of these are in police stations, which is not the preferred choice of most people. The program should be expanded further to include pharmacies, hospitals, clinics and senior centers, and should impose a fee on pharmaceutical manufacturers to pay for the costs of collection and disposal of their products. Attention also needs to be paid to the practices and policies of hospice care regarding disposal of often-powerful pain medications when a person dies.

Please name one current leader who most inspires you.

Pope Francis because of his encyclical on Our Common Home and devotion to care for the poor and care for Earth

What is the biggest lesson you learned at home growing up?

We have a responsibility to repair the world

If life gave you one do-over, what would you spend it on?

I wish I had become a public servant sooner as there is so much worthy work to do.

What was your favorite subject in school and how did it help you in later life?

English. I was -- and am -- an avid reader, which has helped me to become a strong advocate for nature.

If you could give your children only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Be kind to others