MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore addresses water issues and climate change at Montgomery Place

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Commissioner Debra Shore, right, discusses the taste of water samples with Deani Balthazar, a resident of Hyde Park, at a recent presentation on water at Montgomery Place. – Photo courtesy of Montgomery Place


Last Thursday, Aug. 23, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) Commissioner Debra Shore addressed a group of prospective and current residents about the pressing need for innovative problem-solving to manage the area’s fresh water resources during a special event at Montgomery Place. She also shared information about how MWRD is managing stormwater and controlling flooding in a world affected by climate change.

“Only 3 percent of the water on our planet is fresh water,” Shore told the audience gathered in the East Room of the life plan community at 5550 South Shore Drive. “Much of that water is in glaciers… Only 1 percent is available for human consumption. And of that 1 percent, 20 percent is in the Great Lakes. Which means we’re very lucky. But it also means we have a responsibility to be careful stewards.”

“Climate change currently expresses itself with more intense rainstorms,” she added. “Our sewers are built to handle 5-year storms, but we’re seeing 25- and 50-year storms. Unfortunately, we’re also removing the land’s ability to absorb rain. Approximately 42 percent of Cook County is impervious surfaces comprised of roads, parking lots, driveways, patios, sidewalks and roofs.”

In recent years, the Deep Tunnel and other reservoirs have prevented flooding and millions of dollars in property damage. But rather than build bigger sewers and reservoirs in the future, Shore said, MWRD is working with communities like Robbins to reduce flooding at its source by establishing wetlands, lakes and parks that keep water in place. MWRD also has installed restrictors which slow the flow of water into storm drains to help prevent basement backups, Shore said. “Most people would rather have the water in the street than in their basements,” said Shore.

“We’re also working to convince big users of fresh water to consider viable alternatives. For instance, we’ve been in discussions with the Ford assembly plant (on Chicago’s Southeast Side) to use treated waste water from our plants to prepare cars instead of fresh water,” she said.

MWRD also encourages Cook County residents to limit water use, capture stormwater in rain barrels, disconnect downspouts, create garden swales that retain water, and plant trees, shrubs, native and prairie plants in place of grass to absorb more water.

Besides controlling flooding, MWRD strives to keep waterways clean, Shore said. “Today, 60 to 70 species of fish thrive in Chicago waterways.” MWRD urges people to reduce use of fertilizers containing phosphorus which can create deadly algae blooms that kill fish and create toxic conditions.

Shore stressed resource recovery as a strategy for keeping water and the environment clean. The MWRD now sells rain barrels and high-quality compost made by mixing biosolids with wood chips.

To curb water use and keep water clean, Shore suggested:

1. Avoid using plastic straws. Shore uses a metal one. Montgomery Place already has purchased paper straws, which have been difficult to find.

2. Monitor personal water use. Capture water while waiting for the shower to heat up, for instance, and use for flushing toilets or watering flowers.

3. Do not flush unused pharmaceuticals in a toilet. Find a collection site at, visit Montgomery Place residents can give their unused medication to a registered nurse who will dispose of them.

All who attended were invited as many best-tasting votes as filtered water and spring water combined. One guest suggested, “Chicago water was probably voted best-tasting due to its high quality and because the taste is what we’re accustomed to.”

As Shore explained, reversal of the Chicago River in 1900 and subsequent construction of storm reservoirs help to prevent storm water and waste water from entering Lake Michigan. Consequently, Chicago’s drinking water remains purer than much of the water available for drinking elsewhere.