BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
Kimberly Neely DuBuclet is running for re-election to the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago. She has served as a commissioner on the board of the MWRD since December 2018. Previous to this role, DuBuclet was the Chicago Park District’s director of legislative and community affairs and an Illinois state representative. She has a bachelor of science in marketing from the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign and an MBA from the University of Chicago.
“What is the MWRD, and why is it important to me?,” you might ask. The MWRD 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 with three commissioners elected every two years; 6 candidates (including Cam Davis and Eira Corral Sepúlveda, whom I interviewed earlier this year) are running for the 3 open positions. (I am currently trying to lock down interviews with the Green Party candidates). Candidates are running for 6-year terms.
Because of the importance of clean water and protecting our beautiful lake, residents of our area deserve qualified commissioners who are committed to safeguarding the environment. Kimberly Neely DuBuclet submitted the following answers to my candidate questionnaire:
Q. Looking back at your life, what made you interested in protecting the environment?
A. I grew up in a home that frequently flooded during big storms, and I can remember what a burden that was on my family. Providing solutions to low-income communities that reduce home flooding is a very personal cause for me. As our city and region become more and more urbanized, the proliferation of impervious surfaces increases as well. We must find viable infrastructure alternatives that help find somewhere better for this water to go than in people’s homes.
Also given our current national leadership (or lack thereof) on environmental protection issues, and the systematic dismantling of the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental protection laws and regulations, I feel it is absolutely critical that we have strong local leadership to protect our communities from the dangerous policies being promulgated in Washington. As the agency tasked with protecting Lake Michigan, which is the primary source of Cook County’s water supply, and as the second largest landowner in the county, MWRD has the ability to play a key role in protecting our natural heritage.
Q. What are a few of your favorite nature destinations in the area, and why?
A. I grew up swimming at Promontory Point which was significant to me because all of my friends would joke with me that “my skin would fall off” for touching Lake Michigan water. I would respond back to them saying that you all know that is our source for drinking water, which put everything in perspective for us all then and now. I knew that serving in some capacity to protect our environment was in my future.
Q. If reelected, what are your goals for the new term?
A. Increased funding for our Tunnel and Reservoir Project is needed to help expedite the completion of Phase II of the McCook Reservoir. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) have a direct impact on the City of Chicago and other local municipalities in the area that use Lake Michigan and other area waterways as their recreational and drinking water resource.
Since the Thornton reservoir went live in 2015 and first phase of the McCook Reservoir went live in 2017, we have seen a significant reduction in CSOs. This will continue to be the case as we move toward the completion of the second phase of the McCook Reservoir in 2029. MWRD must work closely with the municipalities it serves to develop strategies to help make this happen even sooner to expedite the resolution of the problem of CSOs.
The prevalence of climate change has added increased urgency to our core functions of protection of public health and flood prevention. As we continue to see more intense rainstorms happening in our region and across the country, it is necessary for the district to insure we have the most updated technology and infrastructure to manage the region’s water supply.
I plan to support increasing funding towards the continued implementation of its green infrastructure (GI) plan. GI allows excess storm water to slowly seep into the soil or evaporate into the air, which ultimately reduces the amount of stormwater that enters our sewers and water ways and can help control flooding. GI also offers environmental, social, and economic benefits. It can increase property values, beautify neighborhoods, cool extreme summer temperatures, support natural habitats, create local green jobs, and enhance public space.
I would also support efforts to provide tax credits or rebates for the use of green infrastructure, including permeable pavement, when permits for development or redevelopment are sought under its Watershed Management Ordinance. All of these initiatives play a crucial role in helping to control flooding.
I plan to provide strong local leadership to help protect our communities from the dangerous anti-environmental policies being promoted in Washington. Given the lack of leadership at the federal level regarding environmental issues, and the systematic dismantling of the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental protection laws and regulations, I feel it is absolutely critical that we have strong local leadership to protect our communities from the dangerous policies being promulgated in Washington. As the agency is tasked with protecting Lake Michigan, which is the primary source of Cook County’s water supply, and as the second largest landowner in the County, MWRD has the ability to play a key role in protecting our health and our natural heritage.
Q. What skills and traits do you bring to the MWRD that other candidates do not have?
A. Providing solutions to low-income communities that reduce home flooding is a very personal cause for me. I grew up in a home that frequently flooded during big storms, and I can remember what a burden that was on my family. As our city and region become more and more urbanized, and as we battle climate change, the proliferation of impervious surfaces needs to decrease and the utilization of green infrastructure should increase. I am running to insure that we continue to find viable alternatives like green infrastructure that can better accommodate excess water, which in turn, keeps it out of homes and basements.
I have achieved a number of environmental accomplishments that I am proud of. As chair of the MWRD’s Stormwater Committee, I led the effort to amend the Watershed Management Ordinance (WMO). The WMO seeks to prevent development from making area flooding and water quality problems worse by regulating sewer construction within MWRD’s service area and development within suburban Cook County. The WMO Amendment includes: new watershed specific regulations, adjustments of regulations to include increases in expected rainfall, updates to the redevelopment provisions relating to stormwater detention, and provides other clarifications on the WMO.
As an Illinois state legislator, I was proud to receive a 100 percent voting record on the Illinois Environmental Council’s Legislative Scorecard. I was a strong advocate in this effort by consistently sponsoring and passing legislation that protects our environment and our water. Clean air, water, and open space has always been a priority to me.
Q. Can you identify any process/system/etc. at the MWRD that’s currently not effective/working well? If so, what is it and what will you do to fix it?
A. The Tunnel and Reservoir Project (TARP) was developed to help alleviate flooding and reduce pollution in the Chicago waterways. While it hasn’t completely fixed either problem, it has certainly reduced flooding. The completion of the first two reservoirs has helped alleviate flooding in their respective geographical areas, and so will the McCook reservoir when it is completed in 2029. But even when it’s complete, its total capacity will be less than the equivalent of one and half inches of rain on the county’s surface.
Since TARP was initiated, our rainstorms have become more frequent and more severe–probably due to global warming. With these increased rainstorms, we need to explore other strategies. I also advocate for utilizing green infrastructure that catches rain where it falls and allows the rain to infiltrate the soil, which slows its entry into the sewer system. Widespread implementation of green infrastructure will reduce the number of combined sewer overflows.
I want to thank Kimberly Neely DuBuclet 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 nearly 4 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 will be a vast improvement to President Trump, and I look forward to casting my vote to deny President Trump a second term. Given the high stakes of the presidential and Congressional 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 6 MWRD candidates so that they can make informed decisions on election day. 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
DuBuclet holds copyright to her images and interview text.
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than twenty-five years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? 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. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies. I’ve written and edited many books for Infobase including the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series.