M. Cameron 'Cam' Davis: Candidate profile, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Three Democrats and three Green Party candidates are running for three, 6-year seats on the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, a government agency responsible for spending more than $1.1 billion annually to perform essential functions in preventing flooding and keeping Cook County's waterways clean.
Democrat incumbents Cameron "Cam" Davis of Evanston and Kimberly Neely DuBuclet of Chicago are joined on the ballot by Democrat Eira L. Corral Sepúlveda, the Village Clerk of Hanover Park, and Green Party candidates Troy Hernandez of Chicago, a data scientist and solution engineer; Tammie Vinson of Chicago, a Chicago Public Schools teacher; and Rachel Wales of Oak Lawn, a humane farming adviser and freelance writer.
Q. Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what? What specific professional qualifications do you possess that would make you excel in this office?
A. I am running for reelection as MWRD commissioner because I have dedicated my entire 34-year career to public service and public interest in clean water, most recently as the Obama administration's Great Lakes restoration point person. I am the only commissioner who is a public interest Clean Water Act attorney. I have served as president and CEO of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes. To do these things, I put myself through night school at Chicago-Kent College of Law.
What motivates me is that, in this age of divisiveness, water is something we all have in common. It doesn't matter what your age is, your race, your gender identification, or your religion. We all need water to survive and thrive.
Q. If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A. This year alone, I led the effort to expand green infrastructure -- nature-based solutions to reduce flooding -- to our suburban schoolyards. Right now, our schoolyard green infrastructure program only exists in the city of Chicago. With many of our communities struggling, we should expand this program to our suburbs.
I've also helped lead the effort to prioritize disproportionately impacted areas in MWRD's Watershed Management Ordinance, the first time in this critical law that we have recognized that some neighborhoods -- often communities of color -- struggle more than others and deserve more relief.
Q. Due to the old infrastructure of a combined sewage system, raw sewage may be released into rivers and the lake during a heavy rain. While efforts such as rain barrels are important, does the district have any long-term plans to address the underlying infrastructure issue?
A. Yes, the district has a long-term control plan to reduce overflows into the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). The district's Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) -- some people call it "Deep Tunnel" -- is designed to store billions of gallons of sewage and stormwater during heavy rains until it can be cleaned by the district's treatment plants.
The district continually works to reduce inflow and infiltration of water that leaks into infrastructure, thereby taking up precious storage capacity. But with climate change leading to increased flooding, we will not be able to build enough hard infrastructure to prevent all flooding.
We have to increase open space and think of our landscape as infrastructure. When we pave our landscape with impermeable pavement, we reduce the land's ability to act as a sponge, which soaks up stormwater so that it doesn't result in as many flooded basements, properties, and roadways.
Q. For years, not one suburban Republican has been elected to the board. Should the board be elected by regional districts?
A. Protecting our water should never be a partisan issue. While working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I worked with Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders from across the region to protect and restore the Great Lakes and worked hard to make sure protecting the Great Lakes was nonpartisan.
The state law creating MWRD requires commissioners to act in a nonpartisan manner to the best of their abilities. I take that oath seriously.
I have publicly stated my support for at-large elections, not regional districts. Commissioners should care about all of Cook County. Districts make sense for the legislature, but we should not carve up our rivers and lakes like a stake. If we do that, over time, commissioners will take care of their own districts and not the watersheds that we all share. People who suffer from flooding downstream won't have the recourse of electing upstream officials.
Over time, this could lead to an unfair apportionment of resources to more powerful commissioners, rather than to where they are needed most to reduce flooding and improve public health.
Water does not respect political boundaries. So MWRD's board should not artificially create them.
Q. How do you rate the MWRD on transparency and the public's access to records? If you consider it adequate, please explain why. If you think improvements are needed, please describe them and why they are important
A. MWRD is getting better at transparency but needs to do much more. One area where we need to see dramatic improvement in transparency is any time the Board of Commissioners considers passing an ordinance or amending an ordinance. The public should get 60 days to review and comment on draft changes to ordinances. Right now, the public gets two days for many proposed changes. The public has the right to know what the board is considering and have adequate time to comment. This will result in clearer laws for people to understand and follow.
Q. What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?
A. Did you know that we as MWRD taxpayers pay some $40 million in energy bills and we mostly rely on coal, gas, and nuclear energy? Burning coal and gas for fuel contributes to climate change and air pollution.
So, we're actually paying to pollute our air and put future generations at risk. That doesn't make sense. As commissioner, I'm working to pivot MWRD toward more reliance on renewable (e.g., solar, wind) and recoverable (e.g., biogas from our waste streams) sources of energy. And that will bring our energy bills down in the long run, too.
People can learn more at camdavis.org.