Eira L. Corral Sepúlveda: 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 MWRD Commissioner because we're at a crossroads with climate change. Faced with increasing storms, communities have been forced to confront a flooding crisis interconnected with environmental and racial equity. We have the potential to set precedent for how local governments can reverse the trend of climate change.
I will bring my extensive experience in municipal government and track record advocating for diversity, inclusion and environmental stewardship to expand the leadership of the MWRD and strengthen its efforts to mitigate flooding.
As Clerk of Hanover Park, I have practiced good governance, transparency and active engagement of diverse constituencies. Beyond my role, I have strengthened Hanover Park's environmental practices by spearheading its Arbor Day program and advocating for a biodiverse forest.
As a mother and the daughter of immigrants, I am driven by a passion to ensure that we provide a better future for our children and that government is accessible and inclusive of all communities. Like many in Cook County, I have experienced the financial and emotional hardship of a flooded home. Beyond my work experience, I will carry these values with me as commissioner.
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. 1. Prioritizing equitable investment and environmental justice: The interconnectedness of climate change and racial inequity is one of the biggest global challenges we have today. In order for our communities to survive and prosper, there must be greater equity in allocating resources and greater opportunity to adopt sustainable practices.
2. Uplifting and including community voices: The inclusion of Cook County's diverse populations has been the highlight of my career and an effort I will continue as commissioner. Across races, ethnicities and identities, we have an abundance of residents whose lived experiences can ground policy in community needs. I will collaborate with local stakeholders and municipal government to ensure that their voices are heard in decision making.
3. Making data publicly accessible: An updated technology infrastructure can support data sharing and performance-based evaluation to better protect the integrity of our stormwater systems, our neighborhoods and our regional water supply as storm activity increases and intensifies. Additionally, technology investments can give advance notice of public health trends, such as the positivity rate of the COVID-19 virus.
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. Combined sewer overflows release dangerous substances into the water, threaten the health of our ecosystems and create hazardous conditions for recreational water uses. These threats to public health have increased in likelihood as extreme storm events become more frequent as a result of climate change.
Infrastructure maintenance is a necessity to prevent contamination by raw sewage. To ensure this resource, wastewater treatment agencies must secure increased funding from state and federal governments.
For years, Illinois went without infrastructure packages, which caused our systems to deteriorate, and Illinois' most recent capital bill allocated less than 1% of its funding to water infrastructure. As we face increased storm events, there must be greater prioritization of water infrastructure.
The MWRD can also promote the use of natural solutions to reduce the amount of stormwater in our sewer systems. Deep rooted vegetation, green roofs, bioswales, impervious pavement, rain gardens and other green infrastructure are all examples of natural solutions that can decrease the burden on the MWRD stormwater system and the likelihood of raw sewage contamination.
Q. For years, not one suburban Republican has been elected to the board. Should the board be elected by regional districts?
A. Partisan politics should not have a place in agencies dedicated to public health. Water knows no boundaries and no political identities. Commissioners on the Board must uphold the MWRD's mission to treat wastewater and to manage stormwater in the interest of the district's health and prosperity.
If elected, I would be proud to be a set of "firsts": the first commissioner from Cook County's Northwest suburbs, the first Latina on the board and the youngest commissioner ever elected.
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. In the past, the MWRD has experienced problems with corruption, patronage and a general lack of transparency. As commissioner, I will be committed to reversing that perception and will push for the MWRD to be known as a leading authority on sustainable practices, equitable investment and environmental justice.
I am supportive of the MWRD's necessary decision to onboard its own Inspector General (IG). Scandals of corruption, racketeering and patronage are a disservice both to taxpayers and the reputation of the MWRD. The IG is an important step to end patterns of corruption, increase transparency and require accountability in the MWRD.
It is important that the MWRD also develop a publicly accessible data portal. Beyond restoring the public's trust, an updated technology infrastructure could also support data sharing and performance based evaluation to better protect the integrity of our stormwater systems, our neighborhoods and our regional water supply as storm activity increases and intensifies.
Q. What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?
A. It is a priority for me to include and uplift community voices in the MWRD's decision-making process. Across races, ethnicities and identities, we have an abundance of residents whose lived experiences can ground policy in community needs. I will collaborate with local stakeholders and municipal government to ensure that their voices are heard at the table and reflected in our decision making.
Additionally, I will push for increased investment in modern technology that will allow the MWRD to more effectively transmit data within the stormwater district to better (and more quickly) inform management actions regarding flooding and water quality conditions.
Technology investments can also support wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), which has the potential to help public health agencies address health outbreaks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.