Cameron "Cam" Davis: Candidate profile
Office sought: Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
Family: Married to Dr. Katelyn Varhely, with two children
Occupation: Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
Education: Chicago-Kent College of Law, with a Certification in Environmental & Energy Law; Boston University, B.A. in International Relations, with a concentration in international environmental relations.
Civic involvement: Obama Alumni Association; DePaul University Sustainability Advisory Committee; Democratic Party of Evanston
Elected offices held: Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
Incumbent? If yes, when were first elected: I was first elected as part of a quirky write-in race in 2018
Questions and Answers
1. What special knowledge or experience do you have that particularly qualifies you for this office? 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 was President Obama's Great Lakes point person, coordinating the work of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and other federal departments to invest more than $2 billion for Great Lakes restoration. I was also the Administration's liaison to Capitol Hill, working on a bipartisan basis to protect the source of our drinking water.
Before that, I was President & CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. And, I'm the only MWRD Commissioner who is a Clean Water Act attorney. For my entire 33-year career, I've advocated for the protection of our waterways. But I'm most proud that I started off as a volunteer.
As MWRD Commissioner, I've led efforts to strengthen the agency's Watershed Management Ordinance to help areas prone to flooding like the Des Plaines River and Salt Creek. The Ordinance will help protect our most vulnerable communities from the effects of climate change.
I've pressed for fiscal responsibility, too. Residents of Cook County pay huge legal fees to fight red tape when that money could go to reducing the impacts of road salt on our streams.
I voted for an inspector general, so we now have specialists who can help identify waste, fraud, corruption and abuse.
2. How do you view the role the district has played in controlling flooding and what, if any, actions need to be taken to improve things?
When I was a kid, our basement backed up with wastewater just about every other summer. And I remember the Chicago River system having to be reversed into Lake Michigan about as much so we couldn't swim at the beach. MWRD has made good progress reducing backups and reversals. But climate change is moving the goal posts on us. We've had some of the wettest springs on record recently. That means that MWRD can't just protect against problems now. We must try to predict the future -- or at least what the weather in the future will look like -- and plan for that future. That's not easy, but that's why having qualified commissioners is so critical to help make those policy decisions.
MWRD must also make sure its Watershed Management Ordinance is protecting the most vulnerable among us. We need to keep advancing green infrastructure projects. However, more can be done to coordinate with and provide technical assistance to the public and other governmental entities. MWRD can play a larger role to help shape good local land use decisions and infrastructure investments that are outside of MWRD's control to better manage flooding, minimize public infrastructure expenditures and reduce flooding impacts.
3. What changes in technology, equipment or infrastructure are needed to improve management of the region's water supply.
More green infrastructure to complement optimized traditional infrastructure -- pipes, pumps and water rec plants -- is vital if we're going to handle the wetter weather we're getting. We've seen the McCook Reservoir fill to capacity already in the past year (and construction was just completed not long ago), so moving quickly to complete auxiliary capacity is critical.
Sewer thermal exchange -- call it STEX if you want to be really cool in the world of stormwater technology -- is something we can explore more at MWRD, which allows the natural heat from the wastewater process to be harnessed and used.
4. What is the role of the district, and of district commissioners, in promoting conservation of resources?
Did you know that we as MWRD taxpayers pay some $40 million in energy bills and we mostly rely on coal, gas, and nuclear energy? Burning coal and gas for fuel contributes to climate change and air pollution. It also hurts air quality and contributes to childhood asthma. So, we're actually paying to pollute our air and put future generations at risk. That doesn't make sense. As commissioner, I'm working to pivot MWRD toward more reliance on renewable (e.g., solar, wind) and recoverable (e.g., biogas from our waste streams) sources of energy. And that will bring our energy bills down in the long run, too. People can learn more at https://camdavis.org.
We need to be getting more out of our resources. For example, can we open more property for community gardening so that our residents -- especially those who struggle living in or near "food deserts" -- can grow their own healthy, inexpensive produce? The answer is "yes!" I want to lead that charge if reelected.
With a $1.1 billion annual budget and nearly 2,000 expert staff, MWRD is one of the most important forces for conservation in our region, yet a lot of people have never heard of the agency.
5. 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
MWRD just overhauled its website to make more information searchable and accessible online. That's a great step. Our Public Affairs office also does a great job reaching out to the public to educate people about what the agency does on its behalf every day. But we can do better. For example, our annual draft budgets should be accessible at least two months before they must be voted on. I also think our draft ordinances should be posted for public review and comment at least 30 days before they are due to be voted on. These kinds of public engagement efforts will make MWRD stronger and, as a result, more effective for public and financial health in Cook County.