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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

A team of employees from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) demonstrated their skills in an international competition for water utilities and took home numerous awards.

Named the Second City Sewer Crew, the team of employees and coaches from the MWRD’s Maintenance & Operations and Monitoring & Research departments, representing the Illinois Water Environment Association, finished second in its division overall, and captured second place honors in the Process Control and Collections events in the annual Operations Challenge. The competition brought together more than 50 teams of water utilities teams from around the world to test their wastewater collection and treatment skills. The Operations Challenge took place at the Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) in the Second City Sewer Crew’s home turf at Chicago’s McCormick Place. 

“This event is not just a competition; it’s an opportunity to raise awareness about the exceptional work carried out by these unsung heroes in safeguarding public health and preserving our environment,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “The Operations Challenge provides the world’s premier skills competition for wastewater treatment operators, serving as one of the most effective training and development tools for these dedicated professionals.”

In the Operations Challenge, teams compete to earn the highest score in five different events that are designed to test the diverse skills required to maintain and operate water facilities and infrastructure. At one point, the competitors are measuring and testing water in test tubes, and at other times they are repairing leaky pipes, moving heavy equipment, performing heroic safety missions, and entering virtual reality challenges. After competing in collections systems, laboratory, process control, maintenance and safety events, the winners are determined through a weighted points system.

As in the Olympics, teams wore colorful uniforms, emblazoned with logos and catchy names. Although no play-byplay broadcaster, there are referees and judges and huge crowds flock to see the teams compete, particularly the home team. 

“Congratulations to our Second City Sewer Crew, who we were happy to cheer on and celebrate,” said MWRD Commissioner Daniel Pogorzelski. “Their commitment and awards are a testament to months of training and years of dedication to their craft in maintaining and operating our water reclamation plants. It also demonstrates the sense of pride they have in their work.

Water reclamation plants worldwide play a pivotal role in the preservation of public health and to safeguard our environment by the treatment and the purification wastewater before it is sent to natural water bodies. The Operations Challenge stands as a testament to the remarkable skills and expertise of wastewater collection and treatment professionals.

As the host city, the Second City Sewer Crew trained with teams from Germany and Denmark on the Saturday before WEFTEC at MWRD’s training facility. For the international teams, this unique opportunity marked their sole time to familiarize themselves with the specialized equipment utilized during the competition. Collaboration and training alongside two teams from different corners of the globe proved to be a remarkable experience for all involved and transcended geographical boundaries, fostering camaraderie and a shared commitment to excellence.

“I’m proud of our team and their commitment to training for the Operations Challenge. The team members put in a lot of effort to learn the specific details of each event to avoid penalties. Their dedication paid off—we had no penalties in the Collections event, and very minimal penalties in the other events,” said MWRD Managing Engineer Matt McGregor, who served as coach of the team. “Everyone worked together well this year, and we are looking forward to competing in Division 2 next year.”

Team Members

  • Andre Almaraz, Pipefitter Foreman
  • Dave Garza, Carpenter Leadman
  • Lynn Kohlhaas, Principal Engineer
  • Thomas Sinickas, Associate Civil Engineer


  • Matt McGregor, Managing Engineer, Head Coach
  • Sandra Matual, Treatment Plant Operator 3, Assistant Coach
  • John Kargbo, Senior Engineer, Alternate Team Member
  • Conor Heffernan, Environmental Chemist, Laboratory Event Coach
  • Sean Salmi, Environmental Chemist, Laboratory Event Coach
Press Release
Awards and Announcements, Events, Stormwater

Established in 1889, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is an award-winning, special purpose government agency responsible for wastewater treatment and stormwater management in Cook County, Illinois.


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