I’m not a politician, but a concerned citizen running for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Board in an effort to improve policies to stop serious financial failings and environmental lapses that are hurting each of us in many ways, including drinking water purity, flood control, Asian carp, the dumping of sewage into Chicago waterways, and most importantly – your taxpayer dollars.
I’ve studied, written, worked, and taught about public administration or environmental policy for 30 years – more relevant experience than any other candidate. I worked for 15 years at the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) — the nonpartisan, investigative, and consulting arm of the US Congress nicknamed the federal government’s “Watchdog.” GAO saved taxpayers $50 billion last year. With the same approach, I’ll save your tax dollars at the MWRD.
Did you know that the MWRD is the midwest’s largest environmental organization and the fifth largest government in Illinois, responsible for wastewater treatment, flood control, and protecting the water quality of our waterways? But the current board has let us down. Our water, our environment, and our future are all threatened by the current bcard’s inaction. If you don’t act on November 6, we’ll get more of the same. Your 3 votes can put Green Commissioners in the 3 open seats.
I’ve spoken to hundreds of Cook County voters, from experts to laypeople, and this is what our citizen taxpayers have told me they want from their board:
Improve our water and our environment,
- Disinfect all our wastewater effluent,
- Clean up government contracting,
- Keep jobs here with green infrastructure projects – not lose them to other states and countries,
- Grow our regional economy with world-class water services and low taxes,
- Keep rain and Lake Michigan water here, regenerating our groundwater to drink instead of being treated unnecessarily and flushed down the Mississippi, and
- Keep Asian Carp – now a few miles away – from getting to Lake Michigan and destroying its ecology.
But the board is not doing these things. I will. And so will my green colleagues on the ballot.
That’s why I’m asking you to invest in your – and our – future. Please go to http://cleanwaterdave.com/ and donate $50, $75, or $100. We need to raise $30,000 in seed money to be competitive in this campaign, and to attract larger donations and endorsements; if we raise it in the next two weeks, we can buy more ads, literature, and expand our online presence.
Even a few dollars will help us to send a message that we want clean water, clean government, and cheaper, more effective green infrastructure, to keep rainwater out of our sewers, to keep it in our drinking water aquifers, and to protect the environment from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Democrat candidates say that the MWRD is doing a good job, but the US and Illinois EPAs, the Chicago Civic Federation, the former Chairman of the SEC, the Great Lakes Commission, five great lakes states, the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, and MacArthur “genius” prizewinner architect Jeanne Gang might all have serious disagreements with that assessment. Those who have followed the MWRD closely over the last several years know that the agency has seen serious financial and oversight failings over expenditures by theboard, as well as serious environmental lapses. A few examples:
- Taxpayer dollars – your money – were used to pay $675,000 in penalites levied against MWRD by the US and Illinois EPA for not cleaning up your water.”
- More than $10 million was reportedly spent fighting and lobbying against clean water; do we want our largest environmental agency working against clean water?
- The MWRD fought having to disinfect the last three plants that dump untreated sewage into Chicago waterways, despite being the last major agency in the US to not do so. The Board only agreed to disinfect in mid-2011 under legal threats from the US EPA, not because they decided to be more environmentally responsible. And they still have no plans to disinfect effluent at the largest plant – Stickney.
- According to former SEC Chair Arthur Levitt, a $600 million bond issue several years ago was handled without competitive bidding, costing taxpayers $68 million. That’s about $50 from every voter.
- The deteriorating pension fund is now at 55% coverage, down from 85% a decade ago. Though the MWRD has reversed the decline, it will take 40 years to rebuild the fund.
- The MWRD is now operating under a federal court order to finish projects to reduce flooding, to use green infrastructure, and to distribute more rain barrels. I’d rather have a Board working with EPA and trying to exceed standards than spending taxpayer dollars fighting clean water regulations.
- The MWRD uses nearly 100% gray infrastructure – pumps, concrete, metal, tunnels, and reservoirs. The board has done almost nothing to change this policy. Philadelphia plans to use more than half green infrastructure: cheaper, more effective permeable pavement, rain overflow areas, constructed wetlands, green roofs, rain barrels, etc. I’m told that the MWRD doesn’t have a single landscape architect on staff.
- The board funded a needless $4 million legal fight with the Ritz-Carlton over a 16 by 100 foot alley near Michigan Avenue.
- The board accepts free cars for Commissioners for unlimited personal travel despite a nearly 4% MWRD tax increase – the largest allowed under state law. Nearly every other U.S. local government reimburses only official travel by the mile; I won’t take the car and will work to end the perk.
- The District’s 2012 budget violates its own policy of reserving 12-15% of Corporate Fund appropriations for contingencies.
- Asian Carp, a resilient predator species accidentally released into the Mississippi, presents a major threat to the Great Lakes’ economy, fishing industry, ecology, and recreational boaters. Current electric fences are insufficient. The MWRD controls the highest risk entry point to the Great Lakes; as few as 20 fish could populate the entire Great Lakes in a couple decades.
What will I and my fellow green candidates do differently?
First, we won’t take donations from MWRD contractors, unlike our opponents, so we can make independent decisions to increase transparency and objectively seek out the best, lowest cost firms.
Having taught government finance, I know when outside advice is needed to issue $600 million in bonds.
Having written my dissertation on government contracting and having advised the US Senate on it, I’m sensitive to effective contracting and will work for complete contracting transparency.
Having taught environmental policy, I know that MWRD policy could encourage, incentivize, and reduce infrastructure spending using green infrastructure to keep water out of the sewers. There are many policy options – other cities are already using them.
I will work to re-reverse the Chicago River to keep Asian Carp from Lake Michigan.
I will work to reduce water usage through a variety of water-saving educational, incentives, and policy measures.
I will work to reduce non-point source pollution of nitrogen and phosphorous that creates a 6,000 square mile dead zone choking off aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico.
I will work to reduce the MWRD’s $40 million energy bill and to use 100% renewable energy.
I will work to reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals that reach our drinking water, and
I will work to end the personal use of MWRD cars and start the same policy for mileage reimbursement for official travel that nearly every other government in the U.S. uses.
MWRD must make a fundamental transition to the path that cities like Philadelphia’s “Green City, Clean Water” plan and Milwaukee’s “Fresh Coast Green Solutions” plans are taking.
You can also help by:
Volunteering (Sign up at http://cleanwaterdave.com/)
Holding a coffee (or hosting dinner) at your house on Water Reclamation Issues (email us at Agata@CleanWaterDave.com)
Endorse the campaign by sending an email to Agata@CleanWaterDave.com with your full name and this in the subject line: “I endorse Dave.”
Forwarding this to your friends
Posting on your Facebook page
Liking us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/CleanWaterDave)
Vote! Remember, you have three votes for MWRD Commissioner. Use them all-use them wisely.
Voters have a clear choice November 6.
It’s your choice: we can stay among the least progressive water treatment regions — or we can strive to reach and surpass the best and greenest, such as Philadelphia. Only you can choose whether you want a status quo board or to elect a board that can lead the MWRD in a new direction.
Thank you for your help.
Dave Ehrlich, Ph.D.
Candidate, MWRD Board of Commissioners
(Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, covering the Cook County Chicagoland region)