Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

District Seal

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), originally known as the Sanitary District of Chicago is a special-purpose district, chartered to operate in northern Illinois since 1889. Although its name may imply otherwise, it is not a part of the City of Chicago's local government, but an independent agency of state government with an elected Board of Commissioners. MWRDGC's main purpose is the reclamation and treatment of wastewater and flood water abatement in Cook County to protect the health and safety of citizens and of area waterways. Perhaps its most notable achievement is the reversal of the flow of the Chicago River in 1900.

Organization and Administration

The MWRD is governed by a nine-member Board of Commissioners, elected at large from throughout Cook County, Illinois for six-year terms. Terms are staggered so that three commission chairs are open every two years. Biannually the board elects from its members a President, Vice President, and Chairman of Finance. All of the commissioners receive $70,000 per year, except the Vice President and Chairman of Finance receive $75,000, and the President receives $80,000.

Commissioners act as the MWRD’s legislative branch establishing policies and procedures for meeting the goals of the District.

In the event of a Board vacancy the Governor of Illinois appoints a replacement member who serves the remainder of the term.[1]

2015 Board of Commissioners

The Treasurer is the MWRD's chief financial officer and reports directly to the Board. The Treasurer is charged with maximizing investment interest, issuing bonds to meet capital requirements, managing any debts, and providing general financial management.

The Executive Director also reports directly to the Board and manages the MWRD's day-to-day operations. The Executive Director serves as a key figure in the organization. There are eight departments: Engineering, Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, Law, Maintenance and Operations, Monitoring and Research, and Procurement and Materials Management. Heads of these departments report to the Executive Director as does the staff and support units of Administrative Services which includes the Diversity, Management and Budget, and Public Affairs sections.

The Executive Director is David St. Pierre, P.E. Members of the executive team include:


Public Participation

Public meetings are held twice per month (except during July and August) in the board room at 100 E. Erie Street, Chicago, IL. An electronic copy of the agenda is available via the District’s website about three days prior to each meeting.

At least one public hearing is held between 10 and 20 days after new tentative budgets are made available to the public.


Originally established as the Sanitary District of Chicago, the MWRDGC has played a vital role in the history and health of the city. The Sanitary District Enabling Act of May 29, 1889, established the District with the purpose of managing water supply and wastewater issues.[3] Two important early projects included the reversal of the Chicago River, designed to carry waste water away from Lake Michigan, and the construction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal which aided in the flowage of water out of Lake Michigan. The canal also allowed for larger commercial vessels to move from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

The Sanitary District of Chicago was renamed the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago in 1989,[4] by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Act.[5]

Responsibilities and programs

Stickney Water Reclamation Plant
State Street Bridge

The District's territory covers approximately 91% of land area and 98% of the valuation of Cook County, Illinois; and, unlike other sanitary districts, the district has the power to operate facilities outside its boundaries.[6] It serves an area of 883 square miles (2,290 km2) which covers the City of Chicago and 125 suburban municipalities. The District’s 560 miles (900 km) of intercepting sewer mains are linked to approximately 10,000 local connections.[7]:151–152 Nearly 2,000 people are employed by the MWRD.

The MWRD operates the largest wastewater treatment plant in the world, the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, Illinois, in addition to six other plants and 23 pumping stations. The MWRD treats an average 1.5 billion US gallons (5,700,000 m3) of wastewater each day. It also shares responsibility with the Army Corps of Engineers for the Chicago Area Water System (CAWS), including the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and approximately 76 miles (122 km) of waterways, part of a national system connecting the Atlantic Ocean, Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico.[7]:14

Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP)

The MWRD oversees one of the largest civil engineering projects ever undertaken—the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, better known as the "Deep Tunnel Project." It includes over one hundred miles of tunnels, 9 to 33 feet (10 m) in diameter, each part of an extensive flood mitigation and pollution control project.[8] The first phase of TARP was completed in 2006 and consists of 109.4 miles of deep, large diameter tunnels that have a total storage capacity of 2.3 billion gallons; the tunnels have provided millions of dollars in flood protection benefits. TARP’s large tunnels and reservoirs are designed to reduce the amount of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and hold the polluted water until it can be fully treated at MWRD water reclamation plants. Since the TARP tunnels went online, the average annual number of days with CSOs has reduced to 50 from 100. The second phase of TARP involves the construction of three reservoirs which, when completed in 2029, will provide more than 18 billion gallons of storage capacity. The Majewski Reservoir was completed in 1998 and provides 350 million gallons of CSO storage. Since it went online, the Majewski Reservoir has provided over $250 million in flood reduction benefits to its service area in Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, and Mount Prospect. The last blast took place at the Thornton Composite Reservoir on Sept. 23, 2013. Since 1998, when the MWRD executed an agreement with the owner of the Thornton quarry to mine the north lobe of the quarry for use as a component of TARP, over 152 billion pounds of 400 million year old dolomite limestone has been blasted and removed. Located along interstate 80 in southern Cook County, the Thornton Composite Reservoir, an important component of the MWRD's TARP, will be operational by December 2015. The Thornton Reservoir is set to come online at the same time as disinfection facilities at the MWRD’s Calumet Water Reclamation Plant in Chicago, which also serves the southern area of the county. Working in tandem, the combination will maximize water quality while minimizing flooding. Besides the Thornton Reservoir, the McCook Reservoir is also under construction. Stage 1 of McCook Reservoir is scheduled for completion by Dec. 31, 2017, and will add 3.5 billion gallons of storage capacity. Stage 2 of McCook Reservoir will add 6.5 billion gallons of storage capacity. Additional information about TARP can be found at

Stormwater Management Authority

In 2004, the Illinois General Assembly granted the MWRD stormwater management authority for Cook County, and since that time, the MWRD has been working to address regional flooding issues.[9] In October 2013, the MWRD Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the Cook County Watershed Management Ordinance (WMO). The WMO provides uniform stormwater management regulations for Cook County in order to prevent future commercial, municipal, and residential development and redevelopment projects from exacerbating flooding.

The MWRD hosted four public meetings and a study session in 2013 to offer the public the opportunity to voice their opinion regarding the proposed ordinance. Paved roads, parking lots, walkways, and buildings make cities livable, but they also reduce the amount of land on which water can be absorbed and can lead to increased flooding without sufficient regulation.

In 2007, the MWRD formed an Advisory Committee composed of representatives from municipalities, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations to evaluate and prepare the WMO. The WMO incorporates comments received during both the 2009 and 2013 public review periods, results received from an Economic Impact Study, and input from the WMO Advisory Committee. Numerous changes were made since the original public review period was held in 2009. The first public meeting was held on July 24, 2013 in Northlake, and additional meetings were held in August in Chicago Ridge, Mount Prospect, and East Hazel Crest. The WMO can be downloaded at

Heritage Park

After several years of negotiations, the MWRD Board of Commissioners and representatives from the Wheeling Park District and the Village of Wheeling signed an Intergovernmental Agreement in 2010 for the design, construction, and operation of the stormwater facilities and related additional improvements to Heritage Park, located in the Des Plaines River watershed near the intersection of Dundee and Wolf Roads in Wheeling.

The partnership took a giant leap forward[10] in providing much needed flood relief for residents of Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights as representatives broke ground on the Heritage Park Flood Control Facility, 333 W. Dundee, Wheeling, Ill. on June 4, 2012. Six stormwater storage areas within the complex will have a total capacity to store more than 49 million gallons of rain water. The construction plans also include new walkways, a pavilion by the lake, a band shell, soccer fields and baseball diamonds. The complex will provide compensatory floodwater storage upstream of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Levee 37 flood control structure currently being constructed along the Des Plaines River in Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights. The Levee 37 project and the new Heritage Park stormwater facility together will help alleviate flooding for approximately 600 homes and businesses.

The MWRD Commissioners retained AECOM Technical Services to design the project and awarded a contract to F.H. Paschen/Lake County Grading Joint Venture to construct the facility. The project will be completed by 2014.

Disinfection Technology Policy Instituted

In June 2011, the MWRD Board of Commissioners voted to implement disinfection technology at the Calumet WTP in Chicago and the North Side WTP in Skokie. By March, 2012, the MWRD selected the optimal technology for disinfecting the effluent at the Calumet and North Side Water Reclamation Plants after a blue ribbon task force evaluated all available disinfection technologies using a triple bottom line approach that considered economic, environmental and social criteria.[11]

The processes selected were chlorination/dechlorination for Calumet and ultraviolet irradiation (UV) with low pressure high output lamps for North Side. The estimated capital costs, including engineering design and construction support costs for these two recommended alternatives, totals just over $130 million, approximately 54 percent of the anticipated cost. The internal task force included staff from the departments of Monitoring and Research, Engineering, and Maintenance and Operations. The team systematically evaluated all available disinfection technologies and reviewed academic research and industry practice literature. The task force also performed bench scale studies, monitored existing plant effluent, reviewed site conditions, and contacted industry experts, manufacturers and suppliers, and other large wastewater treatment agencies. In addition, the task force gathered data about design parameters, operational needs, maintenance requirements, and annual and capital costs. Differences in existing infrastructure and hydraulics at the two plants require that a combination of methods be implemented as the basis of final design and construction of the facilities. On Sept. 16, 2013 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Bonnett, State Rep. Robyn Gabel, Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen and other area representatives joined the MWRD Board of Commissioners to break ground on the disinfection facility at the O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant (WRP). A performance by the award-winning McCracken Middle School band was an added attraction. Ground was also broken for the disinfection facility at the Calumet WRP on Chicago’s south side. The work should be completed by December 2015, ahead of the 2016 recreational season. The MWRD's Thornton Reservoir, which will also dramatically improve water quality in the Calumet region, is scheduled to go online at the same time. Significant support for these projects has come from local, state and federal leadership. In 2011, U.S. Senators Richard Durbin and Mark Kirk and Congressman Mike Quigley toured the Chicago area waterways and announced their support for the disinfection projects. In April 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Quinn, and the U.S. EPA awarded the MWRD $10 million through the Illinois Jobs Now! capital program. That funding supplemented the $21 million in engineering and design costs needed to make the MWRD’s disinfection facilities possible. In addition to directly improving the water environment, the two disinfection projects will create 750 construction, operations and support jobs. Construction should be completed by December 2015 and disinfection will be in service for the 2016 recreational season.[12]

Phosphorus recovery

The MWRD began recovering phosphorus and nitrogen from its Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in the fall of 2015. Environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke Oct. 8 in Chicago about the significant benefits nutrient recovery will provide to Chicago area watersheds. “Nutrient pollution is the number one challenge facing this country’s waterways,” said Kennedy. “So it is extremely encouraging to see the largest wastewater treatment plant in the world in one of our largest urban centers take a leading role by implementing Ostara’s advanced nutrient recovery technology to recover phosphorus and nitrogen from their wastewater streams. This will not only reduce their nutrient load but help protect precious area waterways that are part of Mississippi River basin.” Kennedy shared the stage at the Water Environment Federation’s 86th Annual Technical Exhibition & Conference (WEFTEC) with MWRD Chairman of Finance Mariyana Spyropoulos and Executive Director David St. Pierre, who officially announced that the MWRD will complete the installation of Ostara’s nutrient recovery technology at the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, IL, within two years, when WEFTEC returns to Chicago. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, nutrient pollution is among the biggest environmental problems of the 21st century, and the US Environmental Protection Agency has stated that the “the problem of nutrient pollution is nationally significant, expanding, and likely to substantially accelerate.” Excess nutrients promote algae blooms and create dead zones, which can have devastating effects on local ecosystems and economies. The MWRD’s nutrient recovery facility will greatly reduce its nutrient effluent load to the Mississippi river basin, in turn, reducing its impact on hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Ostara’s technology recovers phosphorus and nitrogen from municipal and industrial wastewater streams and transforms them into an environmentally responsible, enhanced efficiency fertilizer called Crystal Green, which is used by growers in the agriculture, turf and ornamental sectors throughout North America and in Europe. The MWRD has partnered with Black & Veatch and Ostara to design and build the nutrient recovery facility at the Stickney Plant. Once fully operational in 2015, the plant will be the largest such facility in the world, with the potential capacity to produce between 10,000 and 15,000 tons of Crystal Green fertilizer annually. “The MWRD’s decision to install a nutrient recovery facility is at the forefront of a growing trend we’re seeing within the wastewater treatment sector,” said F. Phillip Abrary, president and CEO of Ostara. “Increasingly, these utilities see themselves as more than simply water treatment plants. Rather, they are resource recovery centers, recycling water, energy and nutrients for beneficial reuse. Our technology helps them fulfill this mandate by recovering phosphorus and nitrogen in a way that is both economically and environmentally sustainable.” Advising the project team is Dr. James L. Barnard, Water Global Practice and Technology Leader at Black and Veatch, and often referred to as “The Father of Biological Nutrient Removal.” According to Dr. Barnard, phosphorus is a non-renewable resource that is critical to farming and food production. “Nothing grows without it but too much of it can negatively impact water quality,” said Barnard. “Biological nutrient removal enables us to address water quality challenges and recover this precious nutrient for beneficial reuse purposes.” “Technologies like Ostara’s are really miracle technologies,” added Kennedy. “Not only does the process help protect waterways by removing the nutrients from wastewater streams, but the resulting fertilizer, Crystal Green, further reduces nutrient loss due to leaching and runoff because it is highly waterinsoluble and instead releases nutrients in response to plant demand.”[13]

Introduction of Sewerthermal Energy

The MWRD and University of Illinois at Chicago developed a new energy source using an $87,500 grant provided by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation in 2010; the funding helps to cover the total $175,000 cost. The partnership will result in significant energy and cost savings at the Kirie Water Reclamation Plant (WRP). Anticipated savings include a 25 to 50 percent reduction in electricity usage for heating and cooling needs as well as reductions in maintenance expenses and pollutants associated with separate heating and cooling systems.University of Illinois news The Kirie WRP has a daily average flow of 52 million gallons per day (MGD), a capacity of 100 MGD and operates 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks per year. The Kirie WRP serves a 65.2 square miles and serves approximately 217,000 people. The MWRD originally embarked on the project due to across the board increases in energy costs and the desire to become more environmentally-friendly. Taking advantage of alternative resource options goes hand in hand in increasing overall efficiencies at MWRD facilities.

The Kirie system is one of the first to use wastewater for heat recovery and provides the MWRD with the opportunity to evaluate both open and closed loop systems for efficiency and overall performance. MWRD and UIC worked to develop a feasibility study for the Kirie WRP, including system design, equipment requirements, historical system data, space requirements and installation.

The sewerthermal heat and cooling system is expected to harness energy from effluent water (treated wastewater) and is expected to supply the Kirie WRP with up to 40 percent of its heating and cooling energy needs. This plan could provide a model for heating and cooling energy needs at other MWRD facilities. The sewerthermal system will take advantage of relatively constant high temperatures of effluent water and will use only 20 percent or less power than what is needed for a traditional, direct heating system. Rather than extracting heat from the ground as is common for geothermal systems, the MWRD’s system is designed to extract heat from the effluent water, which holds a steady minimum temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit.[14]

In 2012, the sewerthermal system is only one of the energy efficiency upgrades planned for the Kirie WRP. Other plans include enhanced insulation in all buildings and installation of motion sensors that automatically adjust lighting, heating and cooling systems.[15]

See also


  1. MWRD. "Governance." Accessed 2010-01-14.
  3. Encyclopedia of Chicago: Water
  4. Joseph T. Zurad, The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago: Our Second Century of Meeting Challenges and Achieving Success, ASCE, 1996
  5. Illinois General Assembly. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Act. 70 ILCS 2605.
  6. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD). "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago for the Year Ended December 31, 2006." p. 14.
  7. 1 2 MWRD. "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago for the Year Ended December 31, 2015."
  8. MWRD. "Tunnel and Reservoir Plan." Accessed 2010-01-14.
  9. MWRD. "Stormwater Management." Accessed 2010-01-14.
  10. press release 6/4/12
  14. "Heat Pump Systems Use Wastewater To Lower HVAC Costs," WaterWorld Magazine, June 2012
  15. MWRD press release May 7, 2012

External links

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