Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our in-person facility tours are postponed until further notice.


Join us for a Virtual Tour!

Travel back in time to early Chicago to see how we reversed the Chicago River and developed wastewater treatment technology. Go behind the scenes and under water to see how we transform the water you use every day; descend 300 feet into the deep tunnel system, and watch our electrofishing crew at work sampling fish on the Chicago River. 

Our virtual tours are free and open to the public. Registration is required. 


December 16, 2020


January 19, 2021


Questions we have received on our virtual tours

  1. What is the MWRD’s coverage area? The link and a map to municipalities in the MWRD service area can be found here.  Additionally, our website has a great deal of information about our work, so please visit frequently and follow us on social media.
  2. Does MWRD compost have any unpleasant odors? No, our compost does not have unpleasant odors.
  3. Drinking Water – Who handles drinking water? The Department of Water Management delivers nearly 1 billion gallons of drinking water to residents of Chicago and 125 suburbs daily. We encourage you to visit their website to learn more about their services. For additional information, please email watermanagement@cityofchicago.org.
  4. How long does it take to complete one wastewater cycle? The entire process from the time wastewater reaches the treatment plant to the time it is cleaned and "reclaimed" takes less than 12 hours. 
  5. How much polluted water does the MWRD receive during the wastewater treatment process? About 500 billion gallons of wastewater is treated by our seven facilities every year. The MWRD's total wastewater treatment capacity is over 2 billion gallons per day. To learn specific information about each of our plants, please see our fact sheets by clicking on the links below.
  1. Where do the plastics go? Plastics and trash removed from the water are disposed of as garbage and landfilled.
  2. Do you treat wastewater and storm water? Yes! Some parts of our service area do have separate sewer systems that send only sanitary sewage to our water reclamation plants. Learn more about our water reclamation plants.
  3. Is there information on molecular pollutants like hormones (e.g., birth control) and medications (e.g., antidepressants) and how they treated or removed before water is released? Pharmaceutical compounds and their biological degradation products (metabolites) are found in ultra-low concentrations (nanograms per liter or micrograms per liter) in water discharged from wastewater treatment plants (WRPs), according to several research studies carried out all over the world. Wastewater treatment plants are not specifically designed for pharmaceutical removal. In order to eliminate pharmaceutical compounds, current wastewater treatment processes would have to be upgraded with energy and resource intensive technologies such as membrane bioreactors, advanced oxidation processes and activated carbon adsorption. Further research in this field is required to assess the risks associated with the presence of ultra-low concentrations of pharmaceutical compounds in water treated and released from our WRPs. The MWRD encourages safe and proper drug disposal. The MWRD provides drug collection receptacles at three MWRD water reclamation plants and the MWRD headquarters downtown.
  4. Has / will MWRD adopt solar or wind generated energy? Yes, we have solar panels at our Egan Water Reclamation Plant.
  5. What type of biological treatment does the Stickney WRP have? Primary treatment has removed most of the suspended solids from the water at Stickney through filtering and physical means. There is still some remaining, though, because filtration is not practical at the volumes we deal with, and filtering won’t remove dissolved solids. That is when this pivotal biological phase of treatment begins. Here in secondary treatment, a community of microorganisms help remove organic material from the wastewater. These naturally occurring harmless microbes like to eat these solids and need oxygen to thrive, so air is pumped through the water. With lots of food around and plenty of air, the good microbes start to reproduce. Harmful microbes in sewage are generally anaerobic, meaning the air in the tanks is toxic to them. So, the numbers of the good bacteria increase, and any harmful bacteria die off. With no more food and no more air coming in, the good bacteria go into a dormant state. It forms into clumps and sinks to the bottom of the tank. Next, the water enters the final settling tanks where remaining solids settle to the bottom and clean water flows out the top. Read all about the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant.
  6. At the Stickney WRP, how deep are the final sedimentation tanks at the periphery? They are 15' at the side wall and 23' in the center. Each tank can handle 15 million gallons per day. Multiply that by 96 tanks and you get 1440 mgd.
  7. Does any nontreated water make it to the river and is there a plan to fix it? Yes, sewer overflows do occur in heavy rainfall. The Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) is designed to reduce sewer overflows. Green infrastructure and water conservation during heavy rains can help reduce the likelihood of sewer overflows. Learn more about TARP.
  8. Can you show how MWRD handles food waste liquid sludge waste from a industrial food process company? Liquid food waste generally comes to us via the sewer system, mixed in with the rest of the incoming water. We recover the additional cost of treating water from commercial and industrial dischargers. We also receive high strength liquid waste (HSLW), high strength organic material (HSOM) and other liquid recovered resources directly at our plants. The HSLW and HSOM resources improve and stabilize the MWRD’s biological phosphorus (Bio-P) removal process during wastewater treatment. The sugary and starch liquid wastes provide readily biodegradable carbon that serves as food for the phosphate accumulating organisms that work under anaerobic and aerobic conditions in the MWRD’s wastewater treatment process. These organisms work to remove organic material from wastewater and to recover more phosphorus than normal microorganisms. By removing phosphorus, the Bio-P process ensures cleaner water downstream after the water is treated and released back into the environment. The Bio-P program, a permit only program, brings in millions of gallons of carbon-rich material each year, ranging from spent yeast from local breweries to waste recovered from portable restrooms. The material is then safely disposed of locally to reduce hauling distances and further protect the environment. Since launching the Bio-P program in 2017, the MWRD has already received more than 10 million gallons of HSOM at its Calumet and Stickney WRPs, providing Cook County taxpayers with a revenue stream of greater than $500,000. Read more about it.
  9. How do I learn about careers in wastewater? If you are interested in learning more about career opportunities at the MWRD, please click here for more information. To schedule a student presentation with a STEM professional to discuss their career in water, please email communityeducation@mwrd.org. We also have K-12 student resources available online. 
  10. What has been the MWRD’s role in Chicago river cleanup to support the kayakers? TARP and improved technologies like disinfection at our water reclamation plants have improved our waterways to a quality not imagined 100 years ago. Thanks to this work and demand for clean water, as a result, we are seeing more and more fish species and kayakers and recreation on the Chicago River and Chicago Area Waterway System, leading to new economic development opportunities, activity and growth around our rivers.  We have also made access to these waterways a priority by leasing large parcels of land along waterways to local park districts for a nominal fee. We are also collaborating with our partners to improve riverfront trails, restore riverbanks and remove dams.  Additionally, our debris boats and skimmer boats remove debris that could present a hazard to boaters. 
  11. With the current effluents very high in India sewerage, is Tertiary Treatment Reverse Osmosis a good option for sewerage treatment and reuse for industry? In Chicago, we are incredibly fortunate to live by the Great Lakes, which contain 20 percent of the world's surface fresh water and 90 percent of North America's surface fresh water, so our history in protecting this source of drinking water and reversing the flow of the Chicago River is all the more important. Tertiary Treatment Reverse Osmosis (TTRO) therefore has never been something we have considered, and thus we might not be the best source to evaluate this option. This technology does provide a new way to look at effluent reuse, and depending on your alternatives, it is best to consider where applicable and affordable. We have been closely analyzing ways to produce water for pipeline reuse for industrial purposes, not for drinking water. In addition to being harnessed, water itself is also reused directly throughout the MWRD treatment process. Every day, more than 15 million gallons are reused in pipeline flushing, blower motor cooling, post-centrifuge centrate flushing and tank cleaning directly at our facilities. 
  12. Do you have separate intakes for normal sewerage and industrial sewerage? Industrial sewage comes to our plants through the same sewer systems as domestic sewage.  
  13. How do you remove heavy metals and pesticides? Heavy metals are regulated and are part of the pretreatment program. We don’t remove them – we prevent them from entering the plants in the first place. Heavy metals tend to settle out in the solids removed in treatment. Our biosolids are carefully monitored for metals. Concentration of metals found in our biosolids from the treatment process are reported here. Thanks to our monitoring and enforcement work upstream, metals concentrations in our biosolids are very low.  Pesticides are classified by USEPA as Priority Pollutants and we generally have a blanket prohibition from their discharge both to the collection system and surface waters under our jurisdiction, due to their toxicity and endocrine disrupting potential. We have only two significant industrial users out of 334 currently regulated under the Pesticide Chemicals Point Source Category, so it is not a major pretreatment concern for us. 
  14. Is the Revolving Algae Biofilm reactor an advanced version of a Rotating Biological Contactor reactor? The revolving algae biofilm (RAB) system is similar to a rotating biological contactor reactor. The technology was actually developed by our partners at an Iowa State University affiliate startup known as Gross-Wen Technologies (GWT) for agricultural applications. But our scientists discovered it could be adapted for algae-based treatment of municipal wastewater at the MWRD’s Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant greenhouse. The RAB system removes phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients from wastewater, while producing algae biomass from waste nutrients and carbon dioxide captured from the air. The algae could remove at least 50 percent of phosphorus from wastewater and can be harvested and commoditized for production of bioplastics, biochemicals, biofuels, pharmaceuticals and dyes; or used as fertilizer or as aquaculture feed.   
  15. What are technologies mostly used for wastewater treatment at the MWRD? Our water reclamation plants use primary treatment and activated sludge secondary treatment processes. The plants required to disinfect effluent use either chlorination/dechlorination or UV disinfection. 
  16. To what standards do you treat the wastewater, ex: BOD/DO  after treatment in wastewater? Our treatment plants meet the stringent policies and parameters presented in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. You can also learn about our NPDES permit for our Stickney Water Reclamation Plant , how the MWRD fulfills federal requirements, and our analysis of the waterways, which includes our continuous dissolved oxygen measurements and other data.
  17. Can you explain how the leftover secondary sludge or treated sludge is handledThe solids from our treatment process are used to produce biosolids, a soil amendment used throughout our region for agriculture and landscaping.  Our solids are taken to temperature-controlled digesters where microorganisms break down organics similar to composting. After digestion, they pass through centrifuges, where it is spun like a washing machine to dewater the solids. The biosolids are then aged and air-dried. Resulting biosolids are mixed with woodchips to produce our EQ Compost. EQ Compost works as a soil amendment to improve soil structure, supply organic matter and allow plants to more effectively utilize nutrients and soil to retain more water. EQ Compost can be blended with topsoil and potting soil for establishing plants or used as a mulch around already establish plants. The MWRD has been producing and providing biosolids to area parks, golf courses and fields for decades. By using this sustainable product here in Cook County where it is made, the MWRD can protect the environment by reducing hauling and landfill costs while improving soil conditions in the process. 
  18. What are the treatment costs and method to collect treatment cost from users? You can read about our User Charge Ordinance and pretreatment requirement charges. We charge based on volume of water, suspended solids, and BOD. Per the Clean Water Act we are required to recover the cost of treating water from industrial, commercial and tax-exempt users. We bill these users to collect the costs. 
  19. How can I learn more about the MWRD? Besides visiting our website, mwrd.org, follow us on social media. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.