Why the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District uses livestock as lawn mowers
Driving past the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago's treatment plant in Hanover Park, you may spot something a little out of place: a herd of more than 70 goats and sheep.
But these goats aren't lost -- they're on the clock.
Every day the animals roam freely and provide vegetation control, said Julie Reschke, chief of staff for MWRD Commissioner Eira L. Corral Sepúlveda.
Natural solutions like these grazers help keep the integrity of native landscaping, which aids in stormwater management support, Reschke said. The goats are not only cost-effective, costing $95,000 for their 2021 contract, but they also are environmentally friendly.
"The goats help us decrease our usage of herbicides, pesticides, and fuel for traditional lawn maintenance equipment," Reschke said.
The goats are able to access challenging areas that would be otherwise unsafe for their human counterparts. However, the staff still does some work on the properties as well.
"The herd will graze on dozens of acres of shrubs, plants and other overgrowth," Reschke said, "each animal clearing at least 250 square feet of vegetation per day."
The community response has been "substantial," said Reschke. Residents were "delighted" to discover the animals.
"This a great way to fight climate change. And, plus, it's fun! My kids were so excited to see the goats on duty at the Hanover Park water reclamation plant as we made our way to a neighborhood park. It's a great way to plug our families into sustainability, environmentalism, and the MWRD's innovative work," Sepúlveda said.
While observers may be tempted to reach out and pet the goats, Reschke warns against it.
"The species of goats and sheep used for this service are not the same as the friendly types seen in petting zoos," she said. "Please respect the goats' space and do not try to pet them."
This is the third year the water reclamation district has used goats as a method of upkeep. In 2019, it launched a pilot program at the Lemont plant, and the goats were used again in 2020. This is the first year the Hanover Park plant has seen the animals.
A second herd is at the Calumet plant. The herds are then on to the O'Brien plant in Skokie and Thorton Composite Reservoir. The herds stay at each site two to five weeks.
The use of the animals is part of an agencywide practice to find alternative solutions that support MWRD efforts to fight climate change and increase stormwater management, officials said.
Vegetation Solutions, a Wisconsin-based company, is the contractor for the herd, officials said. The company did similar work at O'Hare International Airport.