What is the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago, and why should it matter to you?
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. Because of the importance of clean water and the protection of our beautiful lake and all the Great Lakes, residents of our area deserve qualified board members with expertise in and a strong track record of protecting the environment.
Patricia Theresa Flynn clearly fits this description. She is running for an open seat for a six-year term on the board. The election will be held on November 8, 2022. (You can also read my interviews with board candidates Daniel Pogorzelski and Yumeka Brown.) Theresa (as she prefers to be called) has served as a trustee for the village of Crestwood for more than 10 years and also worked for the MWRD in both its lab and in pollution control. She calls the MWRD “an unsung agency that is so vital to the health of Cook County and beyond.”
I’d planned to contact Theresa to request an interview but, serendipitously, met her at the Beverly Memorial Day Parade and Ridge Run. It was a beautiful day. I participated in the 5K with my wife and son Liam (and realized afterward that I need to up my training game), enjoyed the parade with family and friends, and was happy to meet Theresa briefly on the parade route. At a later date, Theresa was kind enough to talk with me about her background, her goals if elected, pressing environmental issues in the Chicago area, and some of her favorite nearby nature destinations.
Q. Looking back at your life, what made you interested in protecting the environment?
A. As a child nearly every summer, we visited a seaside village on the west coast of Ireland where both of my parents were born. We spent hours upon hours down by the sea. My brothers and cousins made the rocky formations a great playland. But we soon noticed within those years, great change were occurring to the formations due to erosion caused by the impact of fierce storms slamming the coast and the falling away of the cliff side where our family home perched. In those same visits, we noted the farm run-off into the sea, the foaming slurry, and the garbage left behind by holidaymakers. And as a child, I recognized the need to protect our environment.
In much later years, as a mother of young children, we faced a contaminated drinking water scandal (vinyl chloride) in Crestwood whereby a well—which was deemed unsuitable for drinking—was co-mingled with purchased Lake Michigan water. Michael Hawthorne of the Chicago Tribune broke that story, which led to a raid on the Crestwood Village Hall. This snowballed into over $15 million in lawsuits, 22 felony counts on two public officials, and distrust in my local leadership. Water is so vital, and it even feels foolish to state the obvious, but its sustainability and all of its beauty have been my concerns.
Q. So, is that what inspired you to run for office as a trustee in Crestwood?
A. The Crestwood water scandal was a call to action. I began a grassroots, door-knocking campaign to run for local office. I felt it was my only choice, to dig in and become part of local government after the water scandal. I ran as the angry mom, taxpayer, and consumer. The choice to supplement Lake Michigan water with well water was due to the failing water delivery system. The village [water infrastructure] was leaking hundreds of thousands of gallons of purchased Lake Michigan water and utilizing the well as a way to offset the loss. We were certain our water source was Lake Michigan, NOT the well. Had we known we were on well water, I would have regularly tested our water, but our annual Consumer Confidence Reports stated Lake Michigan as our only source. I was successful in that race, becoming the first woman to serve on the village board as trustee.
Flynn clearing invasive buckthorn at Canal Shores in Evanston and participating in a Sierra Club clean up day at Montrose Beach with Dan Pogorzelski, another candidate for the MWRD board.
Q. If elected, what are your goals for your first year in office?
A. Knowing that the MWRD is the second largest landowner in the state is key. We have acres of MWRD property that sits within our village boundaries and have been derelict for some time. I believe more policing of MWRD grounds is important, as well as their adjacent waterways. This will ensure that industries that sit upon the waterways are regularly checked for compliance, and increasing the number of pollution control officers and technicians would be of benefit. Just as important is the preparation for tomorrow—the “50-year flood” and “100-year flood” are happening at much shorter intervals, and I am in favor of infrastructure investments.
Q. What are three of the most pressing environmental (including water-related) issues that leadership in Chicagoland must address in the next five years??
A. Investment in gray and green infrastructure must be the number one priority. Whether it is the completion of our water reservoirs, or updating water delivery systems, or joining forces with other governing bodies on sewer/storm hook up (decreasing the flooding in areas that have historically been problem areas) are all goals that warrant attention from a health and safety standpoint. Low-income communities should be prioritized; the impact there is felt so much more.
Q. What are a few of your favorite nature destinations in the area, and why?
A. The Little Red Schoolhouse is my “go to” all-time favorite, more for nostalgia than any other reason. It is close to home and has been a regular trek for all three of my children throughout their childhood with my parents in tow. Not only is it the great outdoors, but an education for young and old. I also fell in love with Morton Arboretum. I’m sorry to say that I was an adult when this gem was introduced. I cannot say enough great things about the Arboretum, but suffice to say “learning is for life” and what foresight for this gorgeous acreage. And while there are so many recreational gems all around us, my last focus is on the garden beauty and the grandness of the Bahai Temple in Wilmette. As a countywide candidate, I finally had my reasons to trek up there and spend more time, in awe of the view, and view the wonderous architecture overlooking our beautiful Lake Michigan.
Q. Do you have a favorite environmental-related book, movie, or artistic creation that has inspired you? Why did it inspire you?
A. What comes to mind when thinking about an environmental movie or story is the PBS documentary [H2O: The Molecule That Made Us] about the exportation of our water to Saudi Arabia. I had no idea they own the rights to America’s aquifers just four hours east of Los Angeles. These are used to grow alfalfa to ship to Saudi Arabia, amidst a blighted and drought swept area of our country. The documentary is eye-opening and leaves us still with the question as to what to do. This area takes in about 15,000 U.S. acres, drawing precious resources to offset the lack of the same halfway around the world. The other haunting movie is quite recent, Brave Blue World. It stars Matt Damon and many high-profile leading scientists and environmentalists. It re-thinks how we should manage water and the impact our waste of water has globally.
My Final Thoughts
We need a passionate advocate for water quality and environmental issues that affect Chicagoland. As a result, I’ll be voting for Patricia Theresa Flynn, and I hope that you’ll consider doing so, too.
Copyright (my text) Andrew Morkes; Patricia Theresa Flynn holds the copyright to her interview responses
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ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 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. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as 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) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.