BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
Eira Corral Sepúlveda is running for election to the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago. She is the third candidate I’ve interviewed in the last week or so who is running for election or re-election to the MWRD. I think the average person takes the MWRD for granted, but it plays a major role in treating wastewater, reducing flooding (increasingly important as Illinois’ climate becomes wetter due to global climate change), and reducing the amount of stormwater (which collects and transports animal waste, garbage, pesticides, fertilizers, oil, road salt, oil, grease, and other potential pollutants) into Lake Michigan. The district serves an area of 872 square miles, which includes the city of Chicago and 125 suburban communities. The MWRD is governed by a 9-member board elected at-large with3 commissioners elected every 2 years; 13 candidates are running for the 3 open positions. Candidates are running for 6-year terms. Chicago-landers are lucky to have such qualified and committed candidates running for the MWRD election and, as with Cam Davis and Kimberly Neely DuBuclet, I strongly endorse Eira Corral Sepúlveda for election to the board. She submitted the following answers to my candidate questionnaire:
Q. For my readers who may be unaware of your background, can you tell me about your background?
A. I have over a decade of experience in local government, civic engagement, and environmentalism. I was elected at age 23 in Hanover Park and in my 10 years of experience of public service in municipal government I have practiced good governance, transparency, and active community engagement of diverse residents and businesses. As a 3-term elected board member, my leadership has strengthened Hanover Park’s legacy in environmentalism as a Tree City USA and through Arbor Day initiatives with an emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and global impact.
Q. Looking back at your life, what made you interested in protecting the environment?
A. Science and a love for nature. I have always found a way to integrate those two loves in my life. Whether it’s writing reports on tornados for fun or taking AP Environmentalism as a kid. I wanted to be a scientist as a little girl, but as the daughter of Mexican immigrants I did not quite have guidance or access to a path in that career. Nonetheless, I have advocated for environmentalism as a regional leader by advocating for community lead environmental initiatives, biodiversity in our urban forests, and engaging historically disenfranchised communities.
Q. What are a few of your favorite nature destinations in the area, and why?
A. I have awesome memories of family walks and parties at Busse Woods and Knolls Woods, which are part of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. I also love visiting Northerly Island’s Daphne Garden and 12th Street Beach.
Q. Do you have a favorite environmental-related book, movie, or artistic creation that has inspired you?
A. Yes. Nezahualcoyotl, one of the most notable pre-Hispanic sages and poets, wrote some of the most famous poems about the quetzal. This is one of my favorite poems to reflect on our relationship with nature and our planet.
I, Nezahualcoyotl, ask this:
By any chance is it true that one
Lives rooted in the earth?
Not always in the earth:
Here for only just a while;
Though it be made of jade, it breaks;
Though it be made of gold, it breaks;
Though it be made of
It shreds apart.
Not forever here on Earth;
Here for only just a while.
Q. Why are you running for commissioner?
A. I’m jumping into the water because water is the climate change issue in our region. Our water is our future. What we do with our rainwater and how we protect our freshwater resources matters. The increased wetter weather that impacts Chicago and Cook County is directly within the jurisdiction of MWRD, as the district is responsible for stormwater management. This is something I came to understand a few years ago after my home flooded and I was a new homeowner and single mom.
Flooding impacts residents all throughout the County, but it is disproportionately impacting black and brown zip codes. I want to prioritize efforts to invest in green infrastructure and green jobs. With the support of Chicago labor, we can make sure jobs at MWRD are safe and that we promote and provide career opportunities for the workforce of the future.
Q. Other than global climate change, what are some of the major environmental issues affecting the Chicagoland area?
A. MWRD can be a catalyst that transforms the awakening of the public’s consciousness as consumers to policies that influence consumer behaviors to reduce contaminants in our waterways such as plastics and pharmaceuticals. Plastic litter is increasing and permanent, and 92 percent of the plastic that has ever been produced still exists in some form. Fragmented plastics from macrolitter is problematic, especially after it is ingested by aquatic life. We need to continue to push community engagement and educational outreach. Pharmaceutical contamination is also pervasive and dangerous for aquatic life and human public health. I will push for the MWRD to develop a campaign that creates education on disposing of pharmaceuticals, but also works collaboratively with stakeholders to use technology in creating public accessibility and awareness of “MedDrop” locations. As a Hanover Park elected official I have supported our Environmental Committees’ efforts to recycle clothing and home goods through Simply Recycling, as well as establish a medical disposal site in the Hanover Park Police Department.
Q. If elected, what are you hoping to accomplish for the people of Chicagoland as a board member?
A. I have several goals, but I would like to highlight the need to update the MWRD’s Comprehensive Land Use Policy, which was last updated over a decade ago. The review will help the MWRD assess the best use of land and if there is any surplus. It should also include sustainability measures, as well as guide consistency and environmental goals in the language for leasing agreements.
As the second largest landowner in Cook County, MWRD must prioritize conservation, habitat restoration, stormwater capture, and recreational use in its land management decisions. I am open to the use of MWRD land to support clean job hubs and green stormwater infrastructure. And I support collaborating with agencies and community organizations in community-driven and/or conservation uses for MWRD property.
I want to thank Eira Corral Sepúlveda for responding to my candidate questionnaire. The job of protecting the environment, ensuring clean water, and mitigating the effects of climate change starts at the top with President Trump, but his efforts as an environmental steward are abysmal. In his 3+ years in office, he has caused grave damage to our environment and the health of Americans. Our air is dirtier, our water is more polluted, and our soil is less healthy due to his actions. Our national monuments–some of the most beautiful and culturally historical places in the United States–have been opened up to mining, logging, and oil and natural gas exploration, and the damage will only increase if he is elected to a second term. President Trump views the environment as something that should be exploited for short-term gains–not a place of beauty and wonder that should be enjoyed now and protected for future generations. Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will be a vast improvement to President Trump, and I look forward to casting my vote on March 17 as the first step to denying President Trump a second term. Given the high stakes of the presidential election, it’s easy to overlook elections for MWRD board members and other lower-profile offices. But that’s a big mistake. Our votes–especially at the local level–make a huge difference. It behooves Chicagoland voters to learn as much as they can about the 13 MWRD candidates so that they can make informed decisions on election day. In addition to this interview and my interviews with Cam Davis and Kimberly Neely DuBuclet, I suggest that you check out WTTW’s 2020 Voter Guide to the Primary Election to learn about each candidate’s background and positions on the issues. An informed electorate is the key way to protect the environment and preserve our democracy. I hope that you’ll do the work to make educated decisions in this challenging time.
Copyright (my opening and closing text) Andrew Morkes, Nature in Chicagoland
Sepúlveda holds copyright to her images and interview text.
Interested in a career that protects the environment? I frequently write about job opportunities in environmental science, environmental activism, and clean energy in my career newsletter, the CAM Report. Of course, it also offers information on hot careers, the latest on internships and salaries, and interviews with workers–from our nation’s planetary protection officer, to entertainment engineers, to crossword puzzle creators. Click here to read a sample issue and learn more about subscribing.
My College Spotlightnewsletter often covers interesting environmental majors. It also provides information on admissions trends, scholarships, and much more. Click here to read a sample issue and learn more about subscribing.
Finally, my book, They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, 3rd Edition, provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. Click on the title to read the table of contents, the introduction, and a sample chapter.
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