A $1.3 billion agency's leadership on Cook County ballots: Who's running for wastewater district

  • One of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's larger projects is the second stage of the McCook Reservoir. Expected to be completed in 2029, the project will provide an estimated 6.5 billion gallons of storage.

    One of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's larger projects is the second stage of the McCook Reservoir. Expected to be completed in 2029, the project will provide an estimated 6.5 billion gallons of storage. COURTESY OF THE METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICT

  • COURTESY OF THE METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICTThe Thorn Creek Connection tunnel, connecting overbank flooding from Thorn Creek to the Thornton Composite Reservoir in South Holland, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The 7.9-billion-gallon Thornton Composite Reservoir has captured more than 50 billion gallons of combined sewage it went into service in 2015.

    COURTESY OF THE METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICTThe Thorn Creek Connection tunnel, connecting overbank flooding from Thorn Creek to the Thornton Composite Reservoir in South Holland, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The 7.9-billion-gallon Thornton Composite Reservoir has captured more than 50 billion gallons of combined sewage it went into service in 2015.

 
BY JENNY WHIDDEN
jwhidden@dailyherald.com
Updated 11/30/2022 12:36 PM

The $1.3 billion agency responsible for treating wastewater and providing stormwater management for Chicago and more than 100 Cook County communities is on the ballot next Tuesday with four open commissioner seats.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, governed by a nine-member Board of Commissioners, operates seven water reclamation plants, which process wastewater for a total treatment capacity of more than 2 billion gallons per day.

 

"As defined by our mission, the MWRD strives to protect the health and safety of the public in its service area, protect the quality of the water supply source (Lake Michigan), improve the quality of water in watercourses in its service area, protect businesses and homes from flood damages, and manage water as a vital resource for its service area," Patrick Thomas, a spokesperson for the district, said in an email.

Commissioners are elected every two years to serve six-year terms, and they are elected at large, which means each member serves the entire region rather than specific voter subsets.

As a policy-making entity, the board is responsible for establishing policies and procedures for the district, as well as for providing financial oversight.

The board approved $1.3 billion for its 2022 budget, which is supported by a tax levy of $678.9 million -- a 2.5 percent increase from the 2021 levy. The district represents 5.47 percent of a homeowner's property tax bill: A $100,000 home will pay approximately $120.78 to the district in 2022.

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On Election Day, Cook County residents will vote for three members to serve out full six-year terms, and one member to finish out the term of former Commissioner Debra Shore, who was appointed by President Joe Biden last year to lead the Midwest region for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition to its seven water treatment plants, the district owns and operates 560 miles of intercepting sewers and force mains, 23 pumping stations, 34 stormwater detention reservoirs and controls 76.1 miles of navigable waterways.

Last year, the board approved a five-year plan for the agency with input from the public and various stakeholders.

"Between regional flood control projects and local stormwater partnerships, the MWRD has developed a capital improvement plan resulting in more than 220 projects aimed at flood reduction, protecting over 17,000 structures," district spokesperson Allison Fore said in an email.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One of the district's larger ongoing projects is the second stage of the McCook Reservoir, part of the district's tunnel and reservoir plan. Expected to be completed in 2029, the project will provide an estimated 6.5 billion gallons of storage.

The district is also looking to complete the Thorn Creek Connection tunnel by year's end, connecting overbank flooding from Thorn Creek to the Thornton Composite Reservoir in South Holland. Since it went into service in 2015, the 7.9 billion-gallon Thornton Composite Reservoir has captured more than 50 billion gallons of combined sewage, according to the district.

Here's a look at the candidates for Commissioner:

MWRD Commissioner: 6-year term (Vote for three)

Yumeka Brown (D): Brown has served as Matteson village clerk since 2017. She is also president of the Rich Township Democratic Organization.

Mark Buettner (G): Buettner previously worked as wastewater treatment works operator for 14 years, nine of which were spent at MWRD facilities.

R. Cary Capparelli (R): Capparelli is an online professor of geography and geo sciences at South Dakota State University, as well as a former board member of the Illinois International Port District from 2000 to 2009.

Patricia Theresa Flynn (D): Flynn is currently serving her third term as trustee in the Village of Crestwood. Flynn had been an employee of the MWRD, working in pollution control as well as in the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant laboratory.

Mariyana Spyropoulos (D): Spyropoulos, an incumbent MWRD commissioner since 2010, is seeking a third full term. She is a former assistant state's attorney.

MWRD Commissioner: 2-year term (Vote for one)

Toneal Jackson (G): Jackson is an author, publisher and podcaster. She is host of the "Toneal Talks Politics" podcast, as well as a founder of entrepreneurship network Artists Promoting Success.

Daniel "Pogo" Pogorzelski (D): A former executive director of the Avondale Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, Pogorzelski is currently a communications specialist for State Treasurer Michael Frerichs.

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