Welcome to the November, 2020 issue of MWRD For The Love of Water (MWRD FLOW), a monthly summary of news and notes from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

Join us for a Virtual Tour on November 18!

Virtual Tour images


Join the MWRD for another virtual tour experience on November 18 at 2 p.m.

Travel back in time to early Chicago to witness how we reversed the Chicago River and developed wastewater treatment technology.

See how our efforts to implement green technology solutions are complementing our grey infrastructure.

Tour the deep tunnel and more - Register for this unique experience!

Registration link

Our 8th Annual Sustainability Summit was a success!


Sustainability Summit Invite


Nearly 400 green-minded advocates and environmentalists registered to join the MWRD and partners online this year at the MWRD’s Eighth Annual Sustainability Summit to learn about resource recovery, green infrastructure and other innovative measures to protect the planet.

 Due to the pandemic, the Sustainability Summit went virtual this year, featuring a lineup of talented speakers sharing their information, tips, best practices and success stories to an interactive audience. The event also honored achievements in sustainability in Cook County.

“We thank everyone for joining us for these intelligent conversations to promote a better environment and we congratulate our award winners and thank them for protecting our communities through long-term stewardship,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele, who served as moderator for the virtual event. “Because of your hard work in protecting the waterways and the environment, the Chicago region grows more resilient and vibrant every day.”

 The educational forum allowed viewers to gain a better understanding of the benefits of using sustainable resources like the MWRD’s EQ Compost and EQ Biosolids, a product of the wastewater treatment process that can help reduce turf maintenance costs by improving soil quality. EQ Compost, a blend of biosolids and woodchips, 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. Applying biosolids can also reduce the return of vegetation carbon as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from land, MWRD scientists said in their presentation.

 Viewers also learned about the power of green infrastructure to combat flooding and improve water quality. Between local and regional stormwater management projects, green infrastructure partnerships and flood prone property acquisitions, the MWRD has more than 170 projects in some phase of design or construction, and the totality of these projects are protecting or removing more than 13,000 structures. Green infrastructure projects demonstrate smaller, localized projects that homeowners can take in their own yards to capture more water. The MWRD provides tips through its new Green Neighbor Guide.

 The Sustainability Summit also covered sustainable landscaping methods and introduced ways to help Illinois restore the monarch butterfly population. The MWRD staff and partners discussed how they have successfully enlisted goats and sheep to improve vegetation control at water reclamation plants, and how a revitalized Chicago Area Waterway System is now home to an increasing population of native fish, thanks to research compiled by presenters from the MWRD and Shedd Aquarium.

 "Sustainability means pushing ourselves to always do better for the planet we all call home," said MWRD Commissioner Cam Davis. "While attending the Sustainability Summit like we've done in person in the past is fun, this year, more people attended and we cut down on transportation impacts. Thanks to our speakers, award winners, and participants for their work for the world."

In addition to providing an outlet for sharing strategies and resources in promoting the environment, the Summit honored individuals, organizations, municipalities and other agencies for modeling best practices in sustainability. This year’s award winners included the following:

  • Julie Roth from Natural Learners Co-Op, winner of the 2020 Biosolids Beneficial Reuse award for her educational efforts, partnership and sustainable work, creating a children’s garden at Proksa Park in Berwyn.
  • The Sweet Water Foundation, winner of the 2020 Sustainable Landscaping Award for their work transforming abandoned city blocks in the Washington Park and Englewood neighborhoods and turning them into productive green space for community engagement.
  • The Village of Orland Park, winner of the 2020 Sustainable Landscaping Award, for their efforts and accomplishments in creating a green roof at Village Hall and prairie restoration, which creates a landscape-scale sponge for stormwater and connects prairie fragments within the MWRD.
  • The Village of River Forest Sustainability Commission, winner of the 2020 Sustainable Landscaping Award, for their work advocating and supporting the Des Plaines River floodplain; adding green permeable alleys, streets, and parking lots; distributing rain barrels; native plantings; and implementing essential community education.
  • Mayor Jeff Walik and the Village of Stickney, winner of the 2020 Sustainable Landscaping Certificate for achievements in promoting green landscaping and community education. The mayor’s efforts have led to tree plantings and an Arbor Day celebration at local schools to increase student understanding of the importance of trees and nature.
  • The Green Team at Sutherland Elementary School, winner of the Sustainable Landscaping Certificate, for outstanding work creating an outdoor ecological classroom at the Beverly neighborhood school. This garden increases student and community engagement in sustainability and, through deeper rooting plants, can reduce runoff during rain events.
  • Grant Ferguson at fcAmerica (Ferguson Cares) with a 2020 Sustainable Landscaping Certificate in recognition for their sustainable food forest and farm in South Holland. This project includes rain gardens, swales, and native plantings to manage stormwater on the property and rainwater harvesting to utilize for the crops.

View a recording of the Sustainability Summit on the MWRD's YouTube channel.

MWRD Board of Commissioners to meet November 5 at 10:30 a.m.

BOC Portrait
In the photo (Front row, L-R): Vice President Barbara McGowan, President Kari K. Steele, and Chairman of Finance Frank Avila. (Back row, L-R): Commissioners Mariyana Spyropoulos, Marcelino Garcia, Debra Shore, Josina Morita, Kimberly Du Buclet and Cameron Davis.


Due to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Disaster Declaration and pursuant to Public Act 101-0640, the MWRD will hold its Board of Commissioners’ Regular Board Meeting by video conference at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, November 5, 2020.

The MWRD Board Room and building will remain closed to protect the health and safety of the public and staff; only essential personnel will be allowed entry. The public is encouraged to view the proceedings via live stream.

If you would like to make a public comment during the live meeting, please dial (312) 751-3299. To comment on an agenda item during the live meeting or view past meeting comments, please navigate to our electronic commenting page where you will be prompted to register. Click to access the MWRD Board meeting.

Electronic comments will not be read during the meeting; instead, electronic comments will be distributed to the Board and will be available online.

If you would like to view the live stream of the meeting, click the "In Progress" link under the Video Column. The "In Progress" link will only be active when there is a meeting in session.

Want to learn more about the MWRD's 2021 tentative budget?

2021 Budget Book Cover


At the direction of President Kari K. Steele and presiding Chairman of the Committee on Budget and Employment, Frank Avila, a special remote meeting will be held on Thurs., November 5 at 1 p.m. to present and accept the 2021 Executive Director’s Budget Recommendations and related changes. Click here to join the meeting.

The Executive Director’s Budget Recommendations are available for review.

MWRD’s dedicated essential service earns platinum praise

Stickney WRP Aerial


The MWRD has again achieved the highest standards for transforming billions of gallons of wastewater into clean water and protecting area waterways.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) recognized the MWRD with six Platinum Peak Performance Awards for at least five consecutive years of meeting stringent permit guidelines at six MWRD water reclamation plants (WRPs), including the Calumet WRP, which earned platinum honors for meeting full compliance for 28 consecutive years.

“Thank you to our innovative staff who work the front lines every day to protect the quality of our region’s water and reclaim it to benefit our environment,” said MWRD Vice President Barbara McGowan. “Although these awards commemorate our work in 2019, it is this same staff who we applaud in 2020 as heroes for sacrificing so much to come into work each day to manage our region’s wastewater and improve the quality of life for residents and the environment around them.”

The annual awards honor treatment plants for meeting 100 percent compliance of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The MWRD was lauded with platinum status at six WRPs for achieving 100 percent compliance for at least five consecutive years at each. The following facilities have earned Platinum status:

  • Calumet WRP, Chicago, 28 years
  • Lemont WRP, Lemont, 23 years
  • James C. Kirie WRP, Des Plaines, 15 years
  • O’Brien WRP, Skokie, 14 years
  • Hanover Park WRP, Hanover Park, 12 years
  • John E. Egan WRP, Schaumburg, 6 years

 The Calumet WRP, which treated more than 300 million gallons per day in 2019, was placed into service in 1922, followed by the O'Brien WRP in 1928. The MWRD treated more than 536 billion gallons of water in 2019, or about 1.47 billion gallons of water per day. More intense rain events combined with impervious pavement, a flat terrain and increasing demand to shelter the region from pollution all make the MWRD’s around-the-clock service essential to protecting the public health and the local water environment. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic the MWRD continues to provide critically important water reclamation operations and stormwater management services to ensure the region’s wastewater is cleaned and that public health and the environment are protected.

 “We are honored to receive this platinum recognition from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies,” said MWRD Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos. “It serves as a reminder of the important work of our Maintenance and Operations staff, pollution control teams and the Industrial Waste Division who ensure clean water for our environment no matter what flows their way.”

 In addition to its role as the regional stormwater authority for Cook County, the MWRD treats wastewater for residents and businesses for an equivalent population of 10.35 million people across an 882-square-mile area that includes Chicago and 128 suburban communities. The MWRD’s treatment process is protected by a pretreatment program to guard against hazardous substances and toxic chemicals. The MWRD routinely monitors industries and non-residential sources to assure that wastes are disposed of in an environmentally responsible and lawful manner.

 NACWA officials honored water utilities October 28 during a virtual presentation.

 “Our public utility members are the backbone of the communities they serve, providing safe, reliable access to clean water services dayin and dayout. The Peak Performance Award ceremony is our chance to shine a national spotlight on those outstanding clean water utilities that have demonstrated operational excellence with no more than five permit violations in a calendar year, and, for our Gold and Platinum Award winners, zero violations," said Adam Krantz, Chief Executive Officer of NACWA. “These utilities represent the top performers in the whole country and go above and beyond in their mission to protect public health and the environment. On behalf of NACWA’s Board of Directors, I extend my congratulations and gratitude to all this year’s award winners and I thank them for their service and their incredible compliance with increasingly rigid Clean Water Act standards. This year has seen unprecedented challenges in the wake of the pandemic, and the Peak Performance Award winners have more than risen to the occasion.”

"Brave Blue World" now airing on Netflix

Brave New World clip


There is a solution for global clean water - Check out "Brave Blue World" narrated by Liam Neeson and featuring Matt Damon, MWRD's Tom Kunetz and other global water innovators on Netflix!

The film showcases the work underway worldwide by researchers, engineers and organizations to protect water quality, increase resiliency, and reduce water scarcity.

 Kunetz discusses the MWRD's proactive work in sustainability, highlighting the phosphorus recovery facility at the Stickney WRP and the algae nutrient recovery research facility at the O'Brien WRP.

 Watch the film's trailer at Brave Blue World promo.

MWRD Celebrates Latinx Heritage Month

Kayak and Learn


The MWRD and Urban Rivers enjoyed an evening to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month and experience the benefits of their hard work and collaboration by gaining a closer glimpse at the Wild Mile Chicago by kayak.

MWRD Commissioner Marcelino Garcia, staff and friends joined the team from Urban Rivers to kayak the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River and learn how waterway protection has led to miles of potential. To commemorate National Hispanic Heritage Month, the event sparked opportunities for the LatinX community to explore a STEM education and interact with their water environment. The MWRD also celebrated the month by honoring individual LatinX employees and acknowledging their contributions on social media.

 “What better way to get out and connect with nature and highlight the importance of National Hispanic Heritage Month than to kayak along the Wild Mile at sunset,” said Commissioner Marcelino Garcia. “These events help make connections with our community and spotlight the great work through our partnerships. I thank our partners at Urban Rivers and MWRD staff for making it their mission to protect our water environment.”

 Members of the MWRD’s Monitoring and Research Department, who joined the tour, have studied fish species in support of the Wild Mile Chicago project, coordinated by Urban Rivers. On the Wild Mile, along the North Branch Canal and Turning Basin, between Chicago and North avenues, Urban Rivers and the Shedd Aquarium are creating the world’s first mile-long floating eco-park, planting more than 50 native plant species and tracking an attraction of wildlife ranging from mussels to herons.

 The project, which launched in 2017, reclaims the waterway while providing an accessible public open space for the community. The Wild Mile was outlined over the course of many community meetings with the Chicago Department of Planning and Development to build a renewed urban ecology. Partners and planners said it will help generate cleaner, healthier water and more vibrant wildlife ecosystems.

“It is encouraging to see the fruits of our labor in improved water quality and waterway recreation, but it is further uplifting to see talented water stewards from Urban Rivers coming forward to take ownership and protect our waterways, for our communities, aquatic life and wildlife on the Wild Mile,” said MWRD Commissioner Kimberly DuBuclet. “We all stand to benefit in this improved water environment.”