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About the Candidate

Name: Frank Avila
DOB: June 4, 1938
Occupation: MWRD Commissioner, Professional Civil Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor
Political Experience: I was elected to the MWRD Board of Commissioners in 2002 and reelected in 2008 and 2014.
Twitter: @avilawater

Candidate Statement

My Name is Commissioner FRANK AVILA and I am running for Re-Election for Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

The mission of the District is to PROTECT public HEALTH and the ENVIRONMENT of Cook County.

I plan to PROTECT our water supply, LAKE MICHIGAN, and our local waterways.

WATER IS PRECIOUS. Over 70% of our planet is covered by water, but LESS than 1% of that water is FRESH water that people can access. Our body is 60% water. We ALL need water to live.

In order to protect our Lakes and waterways: I will ensure COST-Effective wastewater treatment and promote GREEN and gray infrastructure projects to PROTECT homes and businesses from flooding.

I am a Civil Engineer with a Master’s in Finance who cares deeply about the WATER, SOIL, and AIR environment in Cook County.

I understand the TECHNICAL, ENVIRONMENTAL, and FINANCIAL aspects of District projects.

As Chairman of Finance, I ensure the District maintains AAA bond ratings, undertakes pension reform, CREATES local jobs, AND ADDS billions to the local economy.

I encourage the District to pursue STRONG GREEN initiatives and to ENGAGE with the community.

I advanced a POLICY to RESTRICT the use of TOXIC PESTICIDES that pose a THREAT to human HEALTH and the ENVIRONMENT from being used on District land.

I am COMMITTED to working TOGETHER with public agencies and community groups to REVERSE the impacts of CLIMATE CHANGE and support a HEALTHY Cook County!

I want to continue to serve the PUBLIC AND the ENVIRONMENT as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

Vote FRANK AVILA on Election Day!

Candidate Q&A

Why are you running?

I am a Civil Engineer who cares deeply about the water, soil, and air environment in Cook County. Civil Engineers are keenly aware of and often most affected by regulations that either advance or impede expeditious, cost efficient, and environmentally effective infrastructure to support our modern society. Civil engineers planned, designed, and built the MWRD’s wastewater plants, reservoirs, and tunnels. I understand the technical, environmental, and financial aspects of MWRD operations and projects.

I encourage the MWRD to pursue strong environmental initiatives and to be responsive to the community. One of my main initiatives has been to research and prevent emerging contaminants from entering the sewer system. I advanced a policy to restrict the use of toxic pesticides that pose a threat to human health and the environment from being used on MWRD land and actively educate the public how to use natural lawn care

I guide the MWRD to be a leader in transforming stormwater management culture through the integration of green with gray infrastructure, flood-prone property acquisitions, regulation of development, and numerous regional and local flood control projects. I understand the vital role of pipes and ambitious reservoirs, but also the important role dynamic green infrastructure now plays with the growing number of storm events.

I advocated the MWRD to examine its energy use, reduce its carbon footprint, and pursue resource recovery and sustainability initiatives. I plan to work with the MWRD to increase its utilization of renewable energy. Traveling throughout Cook County, I educate communities about the MWRD and how to be good stewards of the environment. I distribute countless rain barrels, free trees, and bags of compost to different organizations.

I pressed for the MWRD to change its investment policy to consider Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors when evaluating MWRD investments. As an agency that works to protect health and the environment, it is important to invest in companies that prioritize good environmental and social business practices, while also protecting public funds against risk.

I have a Master of Finance and the experience from running my own engineering business to steer the MWRD to stay at the forefront of fiscally sound and environmentally forward policy. As Chairman of Finance, I ensure the MWRD maintains AAA/AA+ bond ratings, undertakes pension reform, creates local jobs, and adds billions to the local economy. I am committed to working together with public agencies and community groups to enact strategies to reverse the impacts of climate change and support a healthy, resilient Cook County.

What is your vision for this office?

For the past 130 years, the MWRD has provided an essential service for the third largest metropolitan area in the country. First developed to deal with wastewater as a human health concern, the MWRD transported waste away from our water supply, Lake Michigan, to avoid disease. Since that time, the MWRD expanded to manage pollution and flooding. Today the MWRD strives to be an anchor of innovation that prioritizes clean water, nature-based solutions, watershed-based planning, resource recovery, community engagement, and good union jobs. I have been a part of this evolution at the MWRD. The Chicago region’s growth and development is by and large due to the unglamorous, but critical work of the MWRD.

The MWRD should continue to evolve to address a changing climate by prioritizing maintaining its infrastructure, cost-effective wastewater treatment, and flood management, while also seeking to reclaim resources like biosolids, nutrients, and energy. Beneficial reuse of stormwater and wastewater can also be valuable resources as water becomes more precious and in demand.

One of my main initiatives has been to research and prevent emerging contaminants from entering our sewer system. I will push the MWRD to stay on top of research, legislation, and regulation. As always, the best way to reduce pollutants in the MWRD system is to prevent them from entering. Collaborating with producers, users, and legislators to discontinue contaminants and find safer alternatives will ease the burden on utilities. Emerging technologies that can filter pollutants could also be a possible solution.

As the MWRD engages in more local projects, forming exceptional partnerships will be integral to foster strategic local and regional watershed-based planning. Community partnerships, engagement, and education should be more targeted, meaningful, and productive. The key for the future will be to support staff innovation and go beyond regulatory requirements to promote resilient communities.

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing your constituents and how do you plan on addressing it?

Flooding is one of the most pressing issues facing constituents. Increasing global temperatures are contributing to extreme, unpredictable weather events such as intense rains, floods, droughts, and reduced air quality. I see the impacts first hand as a MWRD Commissioner. More intense weather events affect the MWRD’s operations, cause flooding, and diminish water quality.

In order to withstand unpredictable weather, the MWRD must continue to maintain, rehabilitate, and update its infrastructure. If MWRD operations fail, the health of the region is at risk. Aging infrastructure must be assessed and inspected in order to prioritize rehabilitation and modernization projects. It is also important to incorporate energy efficiency in the design of infrastructure upgrades.

I have worked with the MWRD to examine its energy use, reduce its carbon footprint, and exploit its biogas excess. Approximately, 30-35% of the MWRD’s total energy needs are through renewable energy sources of biogas and hydroelectricity at the Lockport Powerhouse. I plan to work with the MWRD to increase its utilization of renewable energy and be a proactive leader in addressing climate change.

I also support reviewing and strengthening on-going MWRD stormwater and flood management initiatives. From the colossal Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), to regional and local projects that integrate green infrastructure (GI) with gray infrastructure, the MWRD employs a holistic approach to stormwater management. This approach includes flood prone property acquisitions and regulation of development through the Watershed Management Ordinance. The MWRD has developed over 140 capital stormwater projects that provide homes and business protection from flooding.

TARP, a system of deep, large diameter tunnels and vast reservoirs designed to reduce flooding, prevent pollution, and improve water quality, has met and exceeded expectations by preventing CSOs and basement backups in areas where those emergencies were once pervasive. Now that TARP is almost completed, it is time to shift our focus to local and regional projects. Funding local stormwater projects help identify where local sewer systems can be improved to convey more water to TARP as well as where to establish drainage, detention and GI such as permeable parking lots, bioswales, and rain gardens for most effective results.

Supplementing gray infrastructure with strategic GI now plays an important role in easing the burden on MWRD operations as well as providing aesthetic, social, and health benefits. The MWRD should continue to lead the way and improve and expand its GI program. GI projects are crucial to creating a resilient region. The 2020 MWRD Stormwater Management Fund budget increased by $24.8 million to $116.3 million to further investment in flood control projects and local stormwater issues.