Kari K. Steele
Democratic candidate for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, 6-year term
Responses to our questions
Evaluate the current performance of the MWRD.
Currently, the MWRD is committed to achieving the highest standards of excellence while fulfilling its mission to "protect the health and safety of the public in its service area, protect the quality of the water supply source (Lake Michigan), improve the quality of water in watercourses in its service area, protect businesses and homes from flood damages, and manage water as a vital resource for its service area".
The MWRD is in stable financial condition despite these hard economic times. Ordinances and projects are in place to ensure protection and preservation of Lake Michigan and to assist with flood management. In addition, to support our vision statement "Recovering Resources and Transforming Water", we have continuous research and investigation of best practice improvements to address our environmental and eco-system concerns. The MWRD will continue to be proactive and innovative confronting environmental issues as we continue to guard our reputation as a reliable provider of excellent treatment for residential and industrial wastewater.
Explain why you are qualified to be a commissioner and three specific initiatives you seek to accomplish during your term in office.
As a chemist and environmentalist with experience working in the field & laboratory as a water chemist, I offer unique attributes that are essential assets to the talented members of the Board at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago.
My previous experience makes me uniquely qualified to contribute a broader knowledge that is directly related and relevant for the vast services provided by MWRD. In this capacity, I also contribute to the professional diversity at the MWRD. I'm seeking to be re-elected because it is important to continue the progress that has been made during my 6-year term as a MWRD Commissioner. My community engagement and awareness efforts are essential to addressing, educating and gaining more participation in resolving stormwater and wastewater management matters.
My professional background as a Water Chemist serves as an essential asset to the members on the Board and the communities of Cook County. I have experience working for the City of Chicago Water Department and the MWRD. My laboratory and research experience working in both departments makes me uniquely qualified to discuss and analyze proposed operational changes and new water management implementations.
These unique qualifications provide me the ability to share with communities in a manner that all ages, ethnicities and economic levels can relate to and understand how to get involved, even at home. As the ecological demands upon the agency increase, retention of my scientific background would be of great value to effectively advise, inform and guide policy decisions of the Board.
In addition, I continually engage organizations and faith communities about the works of MWRD and the many ways they can help be part of a sustainable planet. Sharing water conservation tips, storm water management solutions and ways to support green infrastructure is also essential to my conservation credentials that are ongoing. Promoting stormwater management programs such as the MWRD Rain Barrel and Restore the Canopy programs are essential environmental priorities, as well as connecting with elected officials, environmental organizations and others with audiences and congregations to provide important informational literature related to Drug-Free Drains, Prescription Drug Take-Back Initiatives, Eco-Friendly Cleaning Recipes, It's a Toilet — Not a Trashcan, Healthy Waterway Beings With You, etc., are just some of the many efforts that are needed and a valued part of my mission at MWRD.
THE THREE SPECIFIC INITIATIVES I WOULD SEEK TO ACCOMPLISH ARE:
- To increase educational efforts that inform residents about water conservation, the role of the MWRD, and what the MWRD has to offer residents of Cook County to assist in improving the quality of their lives.
- To increase public awareness about how citizens and municipalities can participate in minimizing flooding.
- Use S.T.E.M. training to further expand minority contracting opportunities
Does current MWRD policy sufficiently encourage the use of permeable paving and other tactics to conserve water, diminish flooding and enhance habitat? How, if at all, would you seek to improve the district's conservation policy?
Yes. The MWRD encourages Green Infrastructure and other tactics to conserve water, diminish flooding and enhance habitat. I will continue to be an advocate on the Board at MWRD to increase the use of green infrastructure and the minimization of impervious surfaces. I would improve our conservation policy by proposing to increase the number of schools participating in the Space to Grow Program, reinstate the MWRD Rain Barrel Program, and increase promotion about overflow action days to spread awareness. I am an active participant in reviewing various contracts or bids to do work with or for the MWRD. Ensuring that permeable paving is used when appropriate is one of my many priorities.
Do you favor or oppose separation of the Chicago/Des Plaines/Calumet river watershed from Lake Michigan? Why or why not?
Restoring the historic divide between the Chicago/Des Plaines/ Calumet river watershed from Lake Michigan would permanently stop the threat of invasive species such as Asian carp. For the purpose of stopping the Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan, I support hydrological separation of the Great Lakes. Scientific testing has shown that this will be the most effective longterm solution, and that ecological separation is not a permanent solution. In addition, I believe the study conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should be analyzed and the possible separation points should be evaluated for their ability to maintain, if not improve, other aspects of the system, such as the movement of goods and people, water quality, and storm water management.
Beyond whatever relief recent developments at the McCook quarry will deliver: What more, if anything, should the MWRD do to curb sewage overflows into the Chicago River and, at times, into Lake Michigan? If you propose additional actions, how would you pay for them?
I advocate on the Board at MWRD to increase the use of green infrastructure and minimize concrete and asphalt surfaces throughout Cook County because I know it can assist with alleviating flooding and CSOs in addition to TARP. There were less combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in 2017 than previous years and I predict 2018 will have less resulting from McCook Reservoir going online December 2017.
Provided Mother Nature is an unpredictable source of rainfall, the MWRD can further assist in helping decrease Combined Sewage Overflows by continuing to educate and familiarize constituents about various options of green infrastructure they can install at home and utilize Public Service Announcements that provide consumers, of all ages, with useful water conservation tips that can be used throughout the seasons of heavy downpours. I propose to increase the number of schools participating in the Space to Grow Program, reinstating the MWRD Rain Barrel Program, and increase the promotional communications channels that provide information about green infrastructure and water conservation.
It is also an impending personal goal to pioneer a Parking Lot Program, where MWRD can assist with mitigating the cost difference for permeable pavement to encourage project planners to reconsider using concrete or asphalt. The programs can be intergovernmental agreements with other agencies and/or municipalities to share the responsibility of cost.
Does the MWRD have surplus land? If so, should it be sold for development, transferred to abutting municipalities, or conveyed to the Forest Preserve District for conservation? Explain.
MWRD has surplus land, and the use of each parcel of land should be analyzed individually. I would most likely support transferring management to a public land agency or entity that could facilitate community-driven uses. I would support the sale of MWRD property when it proves to be necessary to support the long term progress and programs of the MWRD. I would also require that any sale stipulate that the future use would follow eco-friendly guidelines including green infrastructure, permeable pavements, habitat buffers, and other green technology components.
Given its sizable budget and the huge contracts it awards, should the MWRD have a different oversight protocol? How would you propose improving oversight and ethics monitoring?
The MWRD has a process in place for oversight protocol. I'm committed to transparent, inclusive and equitable service and I will continue to be a voice for all communities and environmental equality. I would propose improving oversight and ethics monitoring by supporting the creation of an independent inspector general's office. Creating an Inspector General position would not only support a commitment to the public for more efficient and transparent government, but it would also make tax payers comfortable that their money is supporting open and honest government.