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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 through 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. 

Full Climate Action Plan

Abbreviated Climate Action Plan report
Click here for a video walk-though summary of the plan on our YouTube channel. 

How the CAP fits the MWRD

The CAP anticipates future changes in wastewater treatment and stormwater management. The highlighted goals and new regulation will help us (1) guide future infrastructure planning, (2) support “climate resiliency infrastructure investment” decisions, (3) guide mitigation of our GHG emissions that contribute to climate change, and (4) adapt to climate change-related impacts.

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

This living document will be updated on an annual basis to document progress and align with changing conditions and international standards set forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and 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 is using 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 50-percent reduction by 2025 and achieving net-zero by 2050.

Discovering new approaches to lower our carbon footprint

The CAP outlines through an integrated approach how the MWRD will meet its carbon reduction goals. 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


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, to adjust to new rainwater levels, investments in both gray and green infrastructure are necessary 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.