suntimes
LUMINOUS 
Weather Updates

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Green Party Primary

.

The questions

All candidates were invited to respond to questionnaires, although not all chose to participate. Click on a candidate's name to see the unedited response to each question.

Biographical information & experience
  • [ + ]
    ALL
  • [ + ]
    Ehrlich
  • [ + ]
    Samuels
Ehrlich
Birthdate: 12/11/1957
Occupation: Illinois Institute of Technology
Marital status: Single
Spouse:

Education:

Ph.D. in Political Science, Wayne State University

M.P.P. (Masters in Public Policy), Georgetown University

B.A. in Political Science (High Honors), University of Michigan

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

Several academic associations and one philanthropic organization: American Friends of WOTR (Watershed Organization Trust). WOTR is a nonprofit organization based in Pune, India, and has worked with nearly a thousand villages to reduce water runoff problems and to solve groundwater, irrigation, and drinking water problems. While the sewage aspects of Chicago are very different, there are many similarities in that runoff is the single biggest problem both Chicago and much of rural India face. In addition, some of the solutions are very similar.

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

Yes, I have been employed as a senior analyst with the US Government Accountability Office (has been nicknamed the federal government's "Watchdog"), an agency that saves the federal government over $20 billion per year. I also worked for seven years as a legislative assistant with several Members of the US Congress in Washington, DC.

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

None

Samuels
Birthdate: 6/14/1944
Occupation: Community Garden Organizer - Openlands
Marital status: married
Spouse: Bruce Samuels

Education:

I recieved a BA in English with a minor in Sociology at Miami University of Ohio. My major education has come from working in the field with the people in neighborhoods learning thier needs and helping them to meet them in social and environmental justice.

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

Ms. Samuels is currently a board member of the Safer Pest Control Project and the Chicago Recycling Coalition. She is vice chair of the Illinois Green Party and was the ILGP candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2006. She is a member of a number of ad hoc environmental and community action organizations. Most recently, she served an appointment by Governor Pat Quinn on the Chicago State University Board of Trustees.

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

In Oak Park, between 1985 and 1992, Julie served government appointments to Oak Park's Solid Waste Advisory Commission, Solid Waste Task Force and Environmental and Energy Advisory Commission (EEAC) , and to West Cook County's Solid Waste Technology Advisory Committee. In 2002, she served on the Park District Infrastructure Study Committee, advocating for expansion and preservation of passive open space, community gardens and native habitat restoration.

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

Bruce worked for the US Dept. of Labor

Campaign information
  • [ + ]
    ALL
  • [ + ]
    Ehrlich
  • [ + ]
    Samuels
Ehrlich

Campaign headquarters: 512 N. McClurg Ct., #1206
Website: not yet available
Campaign manager: self-managed
Campaign budget: Not yet known.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
The campaign has not received contributions yet.

Samuels

Campaign headquarters: 613 S. Lombard Ave Oak Park Il 60304
Website: Greens4MWRD.org
Campaign manager: Bruce Samuels
Campaign budget: $50.000.00
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
Bruce Samuels - $1000.00

Progress has been made, but there still is no stormwater-management ordinance for Cook County. We still experience flooding that pollutes waterways and damages property. What will you do to get an ordinance passed?
  • [ + ]
    ALL
  • [ + ]
    Ehrlich
  • [ + ]
    Samuels
Ehrlich

A number of contentious issues remain in passing a county-wide ordinance. Most are solvable and should be negotiated. Among these are water quality, costs, size requirements of land under the ordinance, construction cost measures, regulatory overlap, land use planning, wetlands preservation, permit fees, appeal provisions, and other issues. While the issues are complex, vigorous negotiations between stakeholders are the only way to achieve passage of the ordinance as soon as possible. While Cook County's water resources can provide large economic competitiveness advantages in the future, these are not assured. Environmentally sound water management can help to propel Chicagoland's economy in the future, and to increase the region's stature and attractiveness to workers and businesses as a world-class urban area.

Samuels

There appears to be some opposition to this ordinance among current MWRD board members. When our Green Party Slate is elected, we will move to make this happen as quickly as possible. I would however strengthen the currect proposal to require lower limits to the size of developments required to comply with this ordinance and construct storm water retention ponds. Local environmental organizations have suggested this and I support it. I realize that there might be financial burdens placed on developers with this requirement. But there is a cost to doing this the right way that we will all have to bear if we are going to reduce flooding and clean-up our system. In the long run this needs to happen at all developments, retrofitting systems throughout the District.

Cook County is a significant contributor to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico south of New Orleans, due to nutrients in effluent. What would you do to remove nutrients from the effluent?
  • [ + ]
    ALL
  • [ + ]
    Ehrlich
  • [ + ]
    Samuels
Ehrlich

Unnatural eutrophication and hypoxia are serious ecological problems, especially in the central US, and Chicago has been singled out as the largest contributor of in the midwest, mainly from waste phosphorous and nitrogen. Short-term solutions are to use treatment methods to remove phosphorous and nitrogen. Longer term solutions require reducing their use in agriculture and industry, particularly where runoff is most likely. In addition to technological removal, policies to stop or reduce agricultural runoff of phosphorous and nitrogen can reduce the removal challenge and expense to the MWRD while protecting local groundwater from long-term nitrate pollution that is dangerous to human heath. MWRD should investigate the most successful policies in use elsewhere and should work with nonprofits such as the World Resources Institute, which has examined market-based and other solutions to these issues.

Several months ago MacArthur prizewinning architect Jeanne Gang and others, "Reverse Effect," includes many innovative solutions to restore a natural separation between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi while addressing several problems at the same time: invasive species, recreation, Gulf of Mexico hypoxia, increasing wetlands, and even allowing more natural and possibly less expensive ways to treat phosphorous and nitrogen in waste water. While their work does not address costs or monetize benefits, it is an excellent outline of alternatives that MWRD should seriously evaluate and consider.

Samuels

The problem is excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the effluent. Currently the MWRD does not do anything to get this out of the effluent. Other sewage treatment systems do. The MWRD needs to immediately start studying how to do this. Of course, removing phosphorus from detergents is also important. There are existing requirements limiting this component in detergents, but greater enforcement is necessary. A strong public education program would go a long way to help people reduce the amount of detergent they use and to use only phosphorus free brands. People are directed by manufacturers to use twice as much as is necessary to clean their laundry – and they need to be told that. MWRD should be much more active in public outreach in order to eliminate the causes of the problems, not just clean-up the problems that result. Also, reversing the Chicago River would cut down on this problem for the Gulf, depending on when the reversal is done.

What will you do to finish TARP and the McCook reservoir?
  • [ + ]
    ALL
  • [ + ]
    Ehrlich
  • [ + ]
    Samuels
Ehrlich

The remaining part of the TARP project and the McCook reservoir should be completed if they are more cost-beneficial than other ways to reduce runoff and flooding problems, particularly green methods such as the artificial wetlands noted above. Given the high cost of these projects, a careful comparison of alternative solutions may yield greater benefits.

Samuels

Yes TARP should be finished. However, it will never be completely able to stop flooding and the occasional need to release raw sewage back into Lake Michigan unless radical and expensive measures are taken – we have no choice. So I will actively and engergeticaly work to separate rain water systems from the sewage systems. My understanding is that the McCook reservoir is delayed because the economy is down and the company taking stone out is not taking it out as fast as originally expected. I would put more emphasis on the measures we propose to keep stormwater out of the sewer system.

What proposals do you have for reducing the amount of rainwater running into sanitary sewers?
  • [ + ]
    ALL
  • [ + ]
    Ehrlich
  • [ + ]
    Samuels
Ehrlich

Hundreds of policy alternatives exist to reduce rainwater runoff into sanitary sewers. Many cost little, some have greater benefits than costs, and many cost far less than trying to build our way out of this problem. Chicago may suffer increases in rainfall due to climate change in the future, necessitating using all cost-effective methods to reduce runoff. The cost of disinfecting MWRD discharge would also drop with effective runoff policies. The obvious policies include permeable pavement, rain barrels, tree planting, green roofs, and artificial wetlands, but the list is long and detailed.

Samuels

There have to be multiple approaches to keeping stormwater out of the sewers. I will launch a public education program to conserve water and reduce the amount of water both from the sewage stream as well as rainwater that must travel through the system. It must be allowed to soak into the soil by removing asphalt, using permeable only surfaces, removing downspouts and collecting rainwater in cisterns to be used instead of lake water whereever possible, collecting and reusing gray-water, expanding greenspace throughout the district, planting trees, native plants, rain gardens and roof gardens. The City of Chicago is developing plans to channel rain water into parkways along city streets where it will go into the groundwater and not the sewers. This is the kind of idea that municipalities can come up with if they apply themselves to the task.

Right now, rain barrels have to be much more heavily promoted. This could be a job creater –a “Green” job at that, and we should have crews of people installing rain barrels on all the buildings where this is appropriate. Some apartment buildings should install cisterns to hold rain water and then later gradually release it on soil or, if necessary, into the sewers, just not all at once. Permeable paving is being installed in some locations. This needs to be stepped up.

The stormwater management ordinance will help some, but it only applies to new developments outside of Chicago. Existing developments which don't meet the new standards have to be encouraged to find ways to reduce their load on the sewer system. I will create a strong coalition with non-governmental organizations as well as municipalities through out the district which will work to create plans to mandate these environmental changes, to educate the public, promote these ideas and help people to understand how this benefits them now and in the long run.

What would you do to promote transparency at the District to make it easier for taxpayers to know how their money is being spent and how the District's policies affect the environment?
  • [ + ]
    ALL
  • [ + ]
    Ehrlich
  • [ + ]
    Samuels
Ehrlich

I favor allowing taxpayers to fully access how the MWRD is spending its funds, its meetings, its contracting procedures and RFPs, and how each bid was decided for MWRD work. While some of this information is available, the MWRD is a significant tax authority for most taxpayers, has a financial history that requires a higher level of transparency, and taxpayers have the right to higher levels of information.

This information could be available combined with ways that citizens can reduce their water usage, reduce wastewater runoff, and prevent flooding. This is particularly important as the MWRD will likely require additional funding for capital improvements in the next decades - taxpayers are more willing to accept these bonds and taxes if they understand exactly what government services they receive for their taxes.

Samuels

Again, I would work to build a strong district-wide coalition of the NGO's and towns that I know already support the need for changes to the MWRD. This coalition will be the channel that will serve up information to the public. All aspects of MWRD government, systems, hiring and finance, will be open for public input and review. I will distibute surveys to find out what people know or need to know and move to hold meetings at the seven plants in the district and invite the public to attend – presenting informational speakers, tours…and offering low-cost or free water conservation resources to encourage attendance. I will also have staff issue regular reports to the press that include project descriptions, purposes and costs as well as the benefits that derive from this massive system.

Some neighboring states want Chicago area locks closed to stop Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan. What is your opinion on closing the locks? What should the District do to guard against invasive species? Do you support hydrological or ecological separation of the watersheds?
  • [ + ]
    ALL
  • [ + ]
    Ehrlich
  • [ + ]
    Samuels
Ehrlich

DNA tests of Lake Michigan water show that Asian carp may already be in Lake Michigan. Separating Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River now appears to be the best option that should continue to be seriously investigated. Whether closing locks or what other type of physical separation might be most appropriate to do this is another question; it may be preferable for recreational use to separate the waterways further west and south, or even to create rainfall reservoirs that could double as recreational resources.

This option would also address legal liability issues in cases against the MWRD by environmental organizations for Chicago and the MWRD being the primary source of phosphorous contributing to high Gulf hypoxia levels.

Regarding the other 182 nonnative species now living in the Great Lakes Basin, the MWRD should be a leader in helping to coordinate policies that remove continuing problem species, such as Zebra Mussels, where policy is lagging and ballast discharges are still permitted by a loophole in the federal Clean Water Act.

Samuels

I am skeptical that closing the locks will be effective in keeping the carp out of the lake. The electric barrier should be maintained and evaluated and strengthened if necessary. We need to plan to institute ecological separation of the Chicago River and the Mississippi River system as soon as we can. This is a big project which requires careful planning. I don't see it happening in time to stop the carp, but it needs to be done. To make this possible, the MWRD is going to really have to step up its game in removing all the contaminants from effluent before putting it back in the River.

What is your environmental resume?
  • [ + ]
    ALL
  • [ + ]
    Ehrlich
  • [ + ]
    Samuels
Ehrlich

I have taught many courses on Environmental Policy, including courses specifically on Water Policy, Green Development, and Climate Change policy. I now teach at the Illinois Institute of Technology's graduate program in Environmental Management and Sustainability. I worked on environmental issues as a senior legislative assistant for Congressman Claude Pepper (D-FL).

As a senior analyst with the GAO, our mission was to make government work more effectively and efficiently while saving taxpayers money. Some of GAO's mission is to investigate federal operations - including contracting - and to consult with and make recommendations to Congress to improve federal government contracting.

In addition, my Ph.D. dissertation examined contracting and public v. private services. Since a large portion of the MWRD's budget is spent in contracts with private entities, my background is good preparation for this critical oversight role of the MWRD Board of Commissioners.

Samuels

Julie Samuels is a resident of Oak Park and has a background in community organizing on issues of social and environmental justice. These issues include community-based development, utility access for low-income populations, elimination of pesticides, composting of organic wastes, energy conservation and closure of waste incinerators.

Julie has worked as a solid waste/toxics specialist with Citizens for a Better Environment, as statewide coordinator for the Affordable Budget Coalition, and as a tenant management research consultant for Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. She served six years as an at-large member and vice president of the state-wide Illinois Environmental Council.

In Oak Park, between 1985 and 1992, Julie served government appointments to Oak Park's Solid Waste Advisory Commission, Solid Waste Task Force and Environmental and Energy Advisory Commission (EEAC) , and to West Cook County's Solid Waste Technology Advisory Committee. In 2002, she served on the Park District Infrastructure Study Committee, advocating for expansion and preservation of passive open space, community gardens and native habitat restoration.
In 1989, while on the EEAC, Julie helped draft a pesticide control ordinance, subsequently passed by the Village Board, requiring applicator liscensing, community education, public signage and notice and penalties for applicators' non-compliance.
Julie has worked as a Community Garden Organizer in Chicago since 1994, organizing residents in Chicago neighborhoods to assess open space needs and opportunities and to help them implement open space projects which include parks, community gardens, farmer's markets, trail development and youth gardening programs. Currently, she is organizing residents in the Englewood community and coordinating an organic gardening class as well as a program focused on community organizing in order to insure the long life of community-based projects.

The candidates
Dave Ehrlich
Julie Samuels

Not pictured:
Karen Roothaan

The office

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District operates seven water reclamation plants and 23 pumping stations, largley in Cook County. The district also controls 554 miles of sewers and 76.1 miles of navigable waterways.

Latest News Videos
© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.

Comments  Click here to view or make a comment