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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

“Oak-tober” is a prime season to plant a tree. Now the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is partnering with a community-based program with the Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI) and City of Chicago’s Our Roots Chicago to advance its campaign to restore the canopy and manage more stormwater.

The MWRD donated the first of 100 oak tree saplings to the Tree Ambassador Program to increase the tree canopy in Chicago. Made possible through a partnership between the CRTI, Our Roots Chicago, the Chicago Department of Public Health, Chicago Streets and Sanitation and Bureau of Forestry and community-based organizations, the program was launched in 2022 to expand the tree canopy in priority areas, increase tree advocacy and increase engagement in support of trees.

“We are happy to participate with the Chicago Region Trees Initiative and Chicago residents on the Tree Ambassador Program,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “Trees provide numerous benefits, such as clean air, shade, carbon absorption, lower energy bills, increased property values, wind and noise buffers, and wildlife habitat. Most significant to our essential work, they also help us manage stormwater and reduce flooding as a form of green infrastructure, and that is one major reason to consider planting more trees.”

According to the City of Chicago, the program trains community residents on how to identify potential tree locations on city parkways. The tree ambassadors can survey and submit potential tree planting sites from their mobile devices through the CHI 311 app, providing an efficient way to have more trees planted in a shorter period of time. The ambassadors can also geolocate trees to monitor their progress and performance in priority community areas.

The MWRD and the CRTI are both members of Our Roots Chicago, a community-driven and data-informed program to equitably increase the City’s public urban tree canopy, increase stewardship of public trees, and expand community engagement and participation around the many public health, social, economic and environmental benefits that trees can bring to residents and neighborhoods. The Tree Equity Working Group—a group of over 100 community-based organizations, conservation organizations, advocates and government with the shared commitment of expanding Chicago’s tree canopy—helps the City with planting and maintenance strategies, policies, research, and sharing best practices for Chicago’s urban canopy focusing on our priority communities.

“At the core of the Tree Ambassador Program are the community members who have daily conversations with their neighbors, sharing the wonderful benefits of trees in their communities. They are truly the driving force in this community-driven program,” said CRTI Tree Ambassador Specialist Melinda Escobar.

But the tree ambassadors also need trees, and that is where the MWRD and the CRTI play a role. Since 2016, the MWRD has distributed more than 100,000 free tree saplings through its “Restore the Canopy, Plant a Tree” program to empower residents of Cook County with an opportunity to restore the region’s depleted tree canopy. The tree population in the region has been decimated in recent years by emerald ash borer infestations and extreme weather. The MWRD purchases the bare root saplings through the state’s tree nursery downstate and then Maintenance and Operations staff pot about 10,000 saplings each year and water and nurture them.

The CRTI would like to supplement trees planted in the parkways by planting the oak tree saplings on private property. The program allows residents to learn about proper planting and care for their own personal trees, with the expertise of the tree ambassadors.

In 2019, the CRTI developed a comprehensive Master Plan to ensure that trees are healthier, more abundant, more diverse, and more equitably distributed to provide needed benefits to people and communities across the Chicago region by 2050. The CRTI has developed work groups that focus on stewardship and planting; green infrastructure, policy, and native ecosystems; forest composition and analysis; and risk assessment and management. Through this means and outlets like the Tree Ambassador Program, they hope to inspire people to value trees, increase the Chicago region’s tree canopy, reduce threats to trees and enhance oak ecosystems.

“The Tree Ambassador Program and Restore the Canopy provide free services that benefit our homes and communities,” said MWRD Commissioner Yumeka Brown. “Consider planting a tree or learning more about trees to represent your community and help us line our streets with beautiful foliage that also mitigates flooding.”

Every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon through October 25, the MWRD distributes free oak saplings at six of its water reclamation plants at the following locations:

  • Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, 400 E. 130th St., Chicago
  • O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant, 3500 Howard Street, Skokie
  • Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, 6001 W. Pershing Rd., Cicero
  • Egan Water Reclamation Plant, 550 South Meacham Rd, Schaumburg
  • Hanover Park Water Reclamation Plant, 1220 Sycamore Ave., Hanover Park
  • Kirie Water Reclamation Plant, 701 West Oakton St., Des Plaines

To learn more, visit To learn more about Our Roots Chicago, visit

  • Planting and care instructions, along with additional information regarding the benefits of trees, will be provided through a MWRD-produced brochure. 
  • Bare-root saplings must be potted within a couple of days to have the best chance of growth. Potted saplings can survive for a few months as long as they are kept in a cool, moist environment.
  • The best time to plant the saplings is in the spring and fall.
  • Plant your tree where it will receive full to partial sunlight and in a location where it has room to grow; full grown oak trees range from 50 to 80 feet tall.
  • Do not plant under a power line or too close to any structures.
  • Dig a hole wide enough to let the roots spread out completely and deep enough to cover the roots. The topmost roots should be at ground level and visible.
  • Fill the hole with soil, making sure the tree is straight by pressing around the stem.
  • Water the tree after filling the planting hole until water accumulates on the surface.
  • If you use mulch, keep it away from the trunk.
  • Keeping your tree watered is important during its first year. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. In dry weather, you should water every 7–10 days. Avoid watering so much that you see standing water. There is no need to water once the ground freezes.
Press Release
Education, 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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