Big Wins for Chicagoland Waterways

—by Debra Shore, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner

Great news. Yesterday, the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District voted unanimously to award two contracts to construct disinfection facilities at the O’Brien (formerly North Side) Wastewater Treatment Plant and at the Calumet Plant. This means that the water discharged from these two treatment plants will undergo an additional treatment step—disinfection, which will kill bacteria and other pathogens—before being released into the North Shore Channel or the Cal-Sag Channel. The goal is to make these waterways safer for recreational use, such as the increasing numbers of people canoeing, kayaking, and rowing crew on them. Plans for the O’Brien plant in Skokie call for use of ultraviolet (UV) light for the disinfection of more than 200 million gallons per day during the recreational season (March through November). At the Calumet plant, 194 million gallons of wastewater a day will be treated with chlorine and then de-chlorinated before being discharged into the waterway.

I am also pleased to report that the cost is way below prior estimates. Five years ago, District staff estimated the construction costs would be more than $218 million. A detailed analysis conducted last year brought the estimate down to $109 million (because staff found the District would not need to build an additional lift station at one plant). Yet when the bids were opened, the actual costs total $90.8 million—less than half of what was being mentioned five years ago! This is good news for taxpayers.

Moreover, these projects will create up to 750 jobs in direct construction and ancillary activities. Construction of the chlorination/dechlorination facility at Calumet will create 125 new jobs. At the O’Brien plant, construction of the UV facility will create 175 jobs and both contracts will create 450 ancillary positions.

New Chi-Cal Rivers Fund

In another exciting new development, the MWRD has joined a coalition of funders to establish the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund, launched on August 7, to support projects in communities along the Chicago and Calumet waterways that will improve stormwater management, enhance ecological vitality, and provide public access to our region’s waterways.

The Chi-Cal Rivers Fund offers exciting opportunities to strengthen communities by supporting projects through a competitive grants program focused on three goals:

  • Increasing stormwater storage capacity through green infrastructure
  • Enhancing fish and wildlife habitat
  • Improving public-use opportunities

This year, $1.1 million in fund grants—ranging from $50,000 to $300,000—will support on-the-ground projects including rain gardens, green roofs, riverbank stabilization, riparian buffer planting, and trail and access point developments. Eligible applicants include nonprofit organizations, state, tribal, and local governments, and educational institutions. The first Request for Proposals is available for downloading here.

Investing in green stormwater infrastructure and watershed restoration yields real economic, ecological, and social benefits for our region. Please spread the word about this new opportunity to make a difference on the (soggy) ground.