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 board members who will be strong advocates for environmental protection and water management in the Chicago area.
Daniel “Pogo” Pogorzelski fits the bill. He’s currently a communication specialist for Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs, the vice president of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society, a writer and editor at the excellent website ForgottenChicago.com, and the co-author of four books about Chicago’s neighborhoods. He is also the former executive director of the local chamber of commerce in the Chicago neighborhood of Avondale.
Daniel is running for an open seat for a two-year term on the board. If he is elected, he will complete the remainder of outgoing Commissioner Deborah Shore’s term. (Shore was appointed to serve as the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5.) The election will be held on June 28, 2022; early voting is ongoing. Daniel was kind enough to talk with me about his background, his goals if elected, pressing environmental issues in the Chicago area, and some of his favorite nearby nature destinations.
Q. Looking back at your life, what made you interested in protecting the environment?
A. My father was a farm boy from rural Poland. His reverence for the natural world is a value instilled in me and all of my siblings from a young age. He hailed from eastern Poland, a region not too far from the Białowieża Forest, one of the last remnants of the immense primeval woodlands that once stretched across the European Plain and was home to 800 European bison. My father would share with us the story of how this magnificent animal almost went extinct. This made us keenly aware of how we humans as a species can threaten the natural world but also how we can protect it when we make it a priority.
Q. If elected, what are your goals for your first year in office?
A. My first mission will be to connect with every organization in Cook County that is interested in educating people about the importance of clean water and about the common behaviors that imperil the health of our freshwater ecosystem. Throughout my career, I have used civic engagement to amplify ideas as well as to unite people around a cause. There are few causes more important than ensuring we keep our water clean.
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. 1) We have to protect our water supply by doing further research into as well as educating people about the threats posed by “forever chemicals” (PFAS) and microplastics. 2) We need to address climate change at the local level by demanding more power be produced sustainably and, at the MWRD, reducing the amount of methane we flare-off. Shifting to renewable energy will also reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons, a root cause of armed conflict such as the ongoing war in Ukraine. 3) Increased flooding will continue to be a serious issue as climate change worsens. The dominance of a combined sewer system throughout Cook County exacerbates the threat of flooding so it’s important we be especially vigilant on this front.
Q. What is one local environmental issue that most people are unaware of but should be?
A. More people need to be aware of microplastics and forever chemicals/PFAS. Unfortunately, these invisible contaminants do not lend themselves to dramatic television news coverage, but we know they can damage the immune system, increase cancer risk, and cause low birth weight. As commissioner, I hope to raise the profile of the threat posed by microplastics and PFAS to make them as notorious as Asian carp and zebra mussels.
Q. What are a few of your favorite nature destinations in the area, and why?
A. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is an underappreciated oasis of the natural world in the Chicago metropolitan area. Often overlooked when our neighbors in the region look to reconnect with nature, its variety of forests, prairies, and wetlands is really breathtaking in scope once you do a deep dive into the topic. I love taking hikes along the Des Plaines River in Schiller Woods near my house or on the hillier paths in the Palos area. With an open mind and a willingness to learn, a trip to our local forest preserves can refresh one’s soul. I also have a soft spot for the Dunning Read Conservation Area on the city’s Northwest Side. I’m proud to say that I have been part of the team helping to lead the efforts that will revitalize this space and even hope that we can reintroduce a grove of paw-paw trees here, which although native to our part of the U.S., are largely absent from the Chicago metropolitan area.
Q. Do you have a favorite environmentalist or environmental-related book, movie, or artistic creation that has inspired you?
A. I’m a fan of almost anything connected to Dr. Sylvia Earle. While she is an advocate of the marine world and not our sweetwater sea, there is a strong poetic bent to her prose when she speaks. I’m certainly not alone in finding her style so captivating, as she’s helped inspire people the world over to recognize the wonders of our oceans and their vital importance to the health of our planet.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
We need a passionate advocate for water quality and environmental issues that affect Chicagoland. (It also never hurts that Daniel is a writer and someone who is interested in Chicago history like I am, but that’s neither here nor there.) As a result, I’ll be voting for Daniel Pogorzelski, and I hope that you’ll consider doing so, too.
Copyright (my text) Andrew Morkes; Daniel Pogorzelski holds the copyright to his interview responses
Copyright (photos) Daniel Pogorzelski (except below, copyright Andrew Morkes)
Main photo: Daniel cleaning up buckthorn at Canal Shores along the North Shore Channel in Evanston at an Earth Day cleanup.
Photo 2: Daniel Pogorzelski
Photo 3: Daniel with, as you might have guessed, an opossum.
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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.