Sharon Waller

Candidate for MWRD Commissioners (6-year terms)

Candidate Q&A

Why do you want to be a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and why do you believe you are qualified to be a commissioner?

If elected, I'll be the first-ever water engineer on the water rec board, and waller4water is a great ballot name. I'm a license Professional Environmental Engineer with 30+ years experience in the water industry. We have the technology to adapt to extreme weather but lack of policy is a barrier to implementation. Illinois is the only state in the Mississippi River Basin that prohibits water reuse which is the natural water cycle we teach to our 3rd graders. I'm running for clean water and change for climate change because we need all options on the table to adapt.

With rainstorms more frequent and severe, the Deep Tunnel system and the MWRD reservoirs fill up. As a result, it's sometimes necessary to release sewage overflows into waterways. What other strategies should the MWRD employ to reduce those sewage releases between now and when the fourth reservoir is finished in 2029?

We can reduce combined sewer overflow volume by installing on-site decentralized wastewater treatment on large developments that boarder the Chicago Area Water Ways (CAWS) following the example of the NYC Domino Sugar redevelopment that will take 11-acres and five buildings off the old combined sewer system and eliminate that portion of combined sewage overflow to the Brooklyn waterfront and make a return on investment in 10-15 years thanks to an award winning incentive program. ( I encourage the City of Chicago and the Lincoln Yards redevelopment project to consider options other than connecting to the old combined sewer systems because this is an opportunity to incentivize innovation.

How else can the MWRD improve conditions in area waterways to reduce the risk of public health threats for recreational swimmers, kayakers, boaters, etc.?

Riverfront public access similar to our lakefront public access is critical to improvement because "to know the river is to love the river". There should be access for pedestrians and small boats (canoes and kayaks) all along the Chicago Area Water Ways. The H2NOW real-time fecal coliform meters ( should be expanded to include all boat launch and rental sites including Ping Tom Park, Clark Park and River Park. Innovation to reduce combined sewer overflow should be incentivized.

Do you think the MWRD does a good job of informing the public about sewage releases and the potential health risks?

Yes, MWRD sends CSO alert text notifications to those that sign up at H2Now real-time meter data should be included with beach water quality data on websites hosted by public health departments and park districts. The H2Now data transfer system currently needs to be repaired to report data to the website.

Do you think the MWRD does a good job informing the public about permeable paving, “green alleys,” rain barrels and other methods of reducing flooding?

No, There are not enough green alleys due to limited budget and a complicated applications process that require partnerships. Rain barrels are good for public education but are prone to overflow. Bioswales that can soak up stormwater should be added to street modifications such as pedestrian refuges currently underway. We can learn from innovations by other cities with old combined sewer systems (

Do you think the MWRD does a good job informing the public about conserving water during storms such as holding off on running the dishwasher, doing laundry, or taking shorter showers?

Yes, The CSO alert system includes public education for conservation (

Do you think the MWRD has a role in reducing contaminants like prescription drugs / pharmaceuticals and toxic chemicals like phosphates?

Yes, MWRD hosts ads for the drug takeback program on buses. This can expanded to include billboards and an incentive program like a coupon to local drugstores. MWRD has to comply with nutrient assessment reduction plan (NARP) requirements, so it’s in their best interest to partner with local entities on cost-effective options such as buffer strips folllowing the exampel of Green Bay WI (

Do you believe the MWRD has a role in preventing aquatic invasive species from entering the Chicago waterway system?

Yes, Due to it’s size and geographic coverage serving the second largest county in the US, MWRD is uniquely positions to advocate for environmental and climate policy for our region.

What specific water infrastructure projects or investments would you pursue if elected?

I will continue to advocate for decentralized wastewater treatment and reuse for industrial and non-potable applications to reduce combines sewer overflows and provide a drought-proof and cost-stable water source for our industry. Potable reuse is already happening with drinking water intakes and wastewater outfalls co-located on rivers and Wisconsin wastewater plants returning treated water to Lake Michigan which is our drinking water source. Alternative potable water sources are needed in collar county communities that depend on the declining St. Peter Sandstone Aquifer, and any water source that can meet the drinking water standards after appropriate treatment and adequate safeguards should be considered for delivery of affordable high-quality water. Treatment technology exists as evidence on the International Space Station, but lack of policy is a barrier to implementation. The weak-link in delivering high-quality water is not treatment but rather distribution as evidence by lead service lines and my PhD research.