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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

The MWRD prides itself as an environmental leader, keeping the Chicago region and its water environment safe and secure for future generations. But climate change threatens to disrupt the way we deliver these essential services. Rising temperatures and increasing concerns for flooding have significant consequences on the work of the MWRD. To address these challenges and meet the MWRD’s mission and principles laid out by our Strategic Plan, the MWRD strives to address climate change in various ways, beginning by decreasing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

A new roadmap

After four years of interdepartmental task force research and collaboration, interaction between MWRD commissioners and staff, evolving international methodologies for GHG inventories, an informative public comment period and multiple drafts, the MWRD released a highly ambitious climate action plan (CAP), which was adopted by the commissioners on May 4, 2023. This plan presents a roadmap that helps illustrate how the MWRD will take various steps to lower its carbon footprint over the first half of the 21st century. 

Watch a video walk-through summary of the plan: 

How the CAP fits the MWRD

The CAP anticipates future changes in wastewater treatment and stormwater management. The highlighted goals and new regulations will help us:

  • Guide future infrastructure planning.
  • Support “climate resiliency infrastructure investment” decisions.
  • Guide mitigation of our GHG emissions that contribute to climate change.
  • Adapt to climate change-related impacts.

A living document to be unfolded through climate action and climate justice

This living document will be updated annually to document progress and align with changing conditions and international standards set forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Paris Agreement. By following the blueprint unfolded in the CAP, the MWRD aspires to take multiple actions that can lessen the chances of future extreme weather events, protect the water environment and engage and educate the residents and businesses the MWRD serves through climate action and climate justice initiatives.

A blueprint to resilience

The MWRD uses the established 2005 carbon footprint based on the latest IPCC protocols issued in 2019 as the baseline to calculate future reductions. Compared to the 2005 figures, we have set milestones that include a 28-percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2025 and an 80-percent reduction by 2050, with additional stretch targets of a 50-percent reduction by 2025 and achieving net-zero by 2050.

MWRD goals in greenhouse gas reduction from the 2005 level  

Target
2025
2040
2050
Baseline

28%

80%

Interim

60%

Stretch

50%

100%

Discovering new approaches to lower our carbon footprint

The CAP outlines how the MWRD will meet its carbon reduction goals through an integrated approach. It is vital that we examine potential sources of renewable energy, find ways to reduce our carbon footprint and recover valuable raw materials as we work toward a goal of addressing climate change and improving our water environment in the same process. You can view our journey to achieving these goals in our Greenhouse Gas Dashboard.

MWRD’s carbon footprint reduction plan

The CAP demonstrates a series of initiatives that the MWRD began taking to lower its GHG emissions, find renewable energy sources, and capture more carbon. The CAP outlines how we can meet these steps through a GHG emission hierarchy in a four-tiered approach. This pathway first acknowledges reduction actions, operational changes, and streamlining efficiencies before taking larger steps and investments to produce renewable energy and acquire carbon credits and renewable energy credits.

Pathways to meet carbon emissions reductions

Actions 

  • Operational Changes 
  • Improve Process Efficiencies

Timeline 

  • Starting in 2023, explore Inflation Reduction Acts 13403 & 60114 to reduce gasoline consumption and obtain grants to reduce GHG emissions.
  • By 2025, decommission Imhoff tanks at Stickney WRP for a reduction of approximately 36% in GHG emissions.
  • By 2026, install co-firing boilers at Stickney and Hanover Park WRPs to increase biogas utilization and reduce natural gas consumption (Scope 1 GHG reduction).
  • On an ongoing basis, continue increasing the electric vehicles fleet to reduce gasoline consumption (Scope 1 GHG reduction).
Timeline showing the following goals: by 2025, Decommission imhoffs at Stickney WRP for a reduction of approximately 36% in GHG emissions; by 2026, install co-firing boilers at Stickney and Hanover Park WRPs to increase biogas utilization and reduce natural gas consumption (Scope 1 GHG reduction); starting in 2023, explore Inflation Reduction Acts 13403 & 60114 for a reduction of gasoline consumption and obtainment of grants to reduce GHG emissions; and on an ongoing basis, continue practice of increasing e

Actions

  • Operational Changes
  • Improve Process Efficiencies

Timeline

  • By 2024, install new aeration technology at Egan WRP to reduce electricity use and obtain information to improve other WRPs.
  • By 2025, install a turbo blower at Egan WRP for improved aeration efficiency and reduction in electricity use, pilot a new blower system at Kirie WRP for improved aeration efficiency, and complete a study on aeration system improvements at Hanover Park WRP for potential electricity use reduction.
  • Starting in 2025, improve aeration at O'Brien WRP to reduce electricity use through improved efficiency (GHG reduction).
     
Timeline showing the following goals: BY 2024, install new aeration technology at Egan WRP; by 2025, install turbo blower at Egan WRP, pilot new blower system at Kirie WRP, and complete study on aeration system improvements at Hanover Park WRP; and starting in 2025, improve aeration at O'Brien WRP

 Actions

  • Procurement of carbon-free energy self-generation for use and export

Timeline

  • Starting in 2023, adopt a policy of not selling carbon credits outside the fence line to meet net-zero goals. 
  • Starting in 2023, explore the Inflation Reduction Acts (13101, 13102, 13103, 13701, 13702) to achieve energy neutrality and GHG reduction. 
  • By 2024, use biogas-powered electricity to install a combined heat and power unit at Egan WRP. 
  • By 2024, finalize the energy neutrality study to plan for improved aeration efficiency and reduction in grid electricity. 
  • On an ongoing basis, purchase renewable energy credits as a commitment to exceeding GHG reduction targets.
Timeline showing the following goals: by 2024, install a combined heat and power unit at Egan WRP; by 2024, finalize the energy neutrality study; on an ongoing basis, purchase renewable energy credits; starting in 2023, adopt a policy of not selling carbon credits outside the fence line; starting in 2023, explore the Inflation Reduction Acts (13101, 13102, 13103, 13701, 13702)

 Actions 

  • Study process emissions
  • Research new technology

Timeline

  • By 2023, test nitrous oxide risk decision support system at two WRPs for potential nitrous oxide emissions reduction.
  • By 2025, support the NSF Study entitled “ECO-CBET: High-Rate and Sidestream Processes for Innovative Nitrogen Management” for potential nitrous oxide emissions reduction.
  • By 2024, direct GHG measurements from the MWRD facility processes for accurate GHG inventory.
  • By 2025, support the WRF research entitled “Establishing Industry-Wide Guidance for Water Utility Life Cycle GHG Emission Inventories” for accurate GHG inventory.
By 2023, test nitrous oxide risk decision support system at two WRPs; by 2025, support the NSF Study “ECO-CBET: High-Rate and Sidestream Processes for Innovative Nitrogen Management”; by 2024, direct GHG measurements from the MWRD facility processes; by 2025, support the WRF research “Establishing Industry-Wide Guidance for Water Utility Life Cycle GHG Emission Inventories”

Actions

  • Carbon sequestration within the boundary
  • Retention of generated environmental credits
  • Purchase of credible carbon credits

Timeline

  • By 2023, conduct a pilot study on the demonstration of carbon capture and nutrient recovery using an algae biofilm system for the potential for generating carbon insets as value addition to nutrient removal/recovery.
  • By 2024, explore opportunities to expand native prairie landscape on MWRD lands for the potential for generating carbon insets and stormwater management benefits.
  • By 2025, participate in the WRF study entitled “Beyond Net-Zero Carbon: Advancing Carbon Offset and Interdependencies through the Water-Energy-Food Nexus” to address the knowledge gap to meet net-zero goals.
  • By 2030, evaluate the potential of generating carbon insets and offsets for potential cost estimates.
Timeline with the following goals: by 2023, conduct pilot study on demonstration of carbon capture and nutrient recovery using algae biofilm system; by 2024, explore opportunities to expand native prairie landscape on MWRD lands; and by 2025, participate in the WRF study “Beyond Net-Zero Carbon: Advancing Carbon Offset and Interdependencies through the Water-Energy-Food Nexus”

 

Timeline showing the following goal: by 2030, evaluate the potential of generating carbon insets and offsets for potential cost estimates.

Preparing for climate change by adapting today

As the CAP suggests, we can prepare for climate change, but some of its impacts are already being felt today. Even if global and local GHG emissions decrease dramatically, many climate impacts are now being experienced. That is why the MWRD is working across Cook County to adjust to new rainfall levels. The CAP highlights climate change impacts, ongoing responses, priority actions, and long-term directions.

Our work adapting to climate change

Our staff works around the clock to protect the water environment, mitigating flooding, managing waterway elevations, and keeping operations moving at its seven water reclamation plants. The MWRD’s Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) provides significant storage capacity to address storms and has been functioning as planned during recent events. However, gray and green infrastructure investments are necessary to adjust to new rainwater levels to increase capacity for more storms. Between local and regional stormwater management projects, green infrastructure partnerships, and flood-prone property acquisitions, the MWRD has more than 200 active and completed projects. These projects aim to reduce floods and are protecting more than 17,000 structures. That is how seriously the MWRD has taken on the challenge of flooding and the effects of climate change.

More layers of protection: our partners’ climate action plans

We realize we cannot manage our water alone. Addressing climate change takes partnerships and collaboration. The MWRD is grateful for the work of regional partners to coalesce toward climate resilience. Click the logo of any of our partners to view their climate action plans.