Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade

Green Fest Pictures

My wife, daughter and I at the entrance to Green Fest

Mary Beth from Green Parents Network and I

My wife and I

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Newly Elected Officials Meet 'n Greet

On May 20th, 2009, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago welcomed newly elected public office holders and their top managers from throughout the District for the "Meet 'n Greet & Nuts 'n Bolts" Forum at the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant. The forum allowed the public officials to meet the Board of Commissioners and some of the District's senior staff, while also providing them with an overview of the ways in which the District strives to protect Lake Michigan and the Chicago Area Waterways.

I enjoyed meeting all of these great new public officials and I look forward to continuing my work with municipal leaders from throughout the district to protect our water environment.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Board Meetings

The MWRDGC holds public board meetings twice a month (except in July and August). The next board meeting is this Thursday, May 21st at 10am in the board room at our main office building (100 E. Erie, Chicago). I want to encourage the public to attend these meetings and to be actively involved with the Board. Click here for board meeting details and agenda.

Board Meeting Schedule 2009
May 21
June 4
June 18
July 9
August 6
September 3
September 17
October 1
October 15
November 5
November 19
December 1 (Annual Meeting)
December 3
December 17

Friday, May 15, 2009

Biosolids, Poop...

Biosolids are nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of sewage at a wastewater treatment facility. Basically, biosolids are our treated poop. Biosolids are recycled and used as fertilizer for farming and gardening. Here is a link to the EPA's FAQ on biosolids.

Currently, there is a discussion over the best way to get rid of biosolids. This article explores the present biosolids situation -- how although using biosolids for fertilizer is an attractive solution, there are environmental concerns as to the chemicals found in biosolids. Further, the article probes if there are more desirable ways to recycle biosolids such as converting it into energy.

Related to the power of biosolids, below are two articles that also explore, well, what do do with our poop. First, this article in the Chicago Reader about a local woman, Nancy Klehm, who started a poop composting project. And this article, which delves into whether disposing of poop in our water is the best practice.

5th Annual Chicago River Summit

Friends of the Chicago River will host the 5th annual Chicago River Summit on Friday, June 5, 2009 at the Merchandise Mart. The Chicago River Summit focuses on identifying sustainable solutions for the issues that impact the Chicago River. The theme for this year's Summit is the responsible development and planning of the Chicago River corridor. Registration is $20.
For more information click here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pharmaceuticals in our Water

This article talks about how State Senator Susan Garrett, D-29th, of Lake Forest invited representatives from various governmental agencies including the MWRD to discuss the growing concern over pharmaceuticals in our water.

This issue of pharmaceutical chemicals winding up in our water bodies is something that I have been concerned about as well. Sewage treatment plants are not designed to fully remove drugs from treated water. Therefore, chemicals from the drugs pass through sewage treatment plants and are released back into our water bodies. Research has shown that these chemicals can cause reproductive and developmental problems in fish and other aquatic wildlife. The exact threat to human health from pharmaceuticals in our water supply is not fully known, but it is something we should continue to research and be cognizant about.

One way to help combat this issue is to properly dispose of unused and expired medication. Pharmaceuticals end up in our waterways when we flush or trash old medication. You shouldn't flush old medication down the toilet or drain or put old medication in the trash. Drugs thrown in the trash can also affect the aquatic environment by leaching into landfills and winding up in our groundwater.

Cook County has numerous permanent medication disposal locations where you can take your medications to safely dispose of them. Click here for a list of disposal locations.

Other organizations and governmental agencies such as the MWRDGC hold hazardous waste collection events where they collect medication and other hazardous material and dispose of them for you. Click here for a schedule of upcoming events.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rain Barrels

I thought a post about rain barrels would be appropriate in honor of our rainy day. Rain barrels are great tools to help conserve water and manage stormwater. During the summer months up to 40 percent of our tap water is used to maintain our lawns and gardens. Rain barrels help reduce that amount by capturing rain water from your downspout that you can then use in lieu of tap water on your garden, lawn, and potted plants, or even to clean your car. You can make your own rain barrel or purchase one. The MWRD is currently selling Rain Barrels for $40. Click here for more information.

A few board meetings ago, Boy Scout Michael Frank was honored by the board for his wonderful rain barrel eagle scout service project. Michael wanted to do a service project that would benefit the environment and chose to focus on water conservation by installing rain barrels in his community of River Forest. For more information on his great project click here.

Also, related to the topic of rain barrels, my articulate and thoughtful colleague, Commissioner Debra Shore, wrote a thought provoking piece entitled A Day Without Water on The Huffington Post awhile back about our dependence on water and how we should take steps to be more responsible with this precious resource.

It's easy to take water for granted and frown on a rainy day, but remember that all water even rain water is a precious gift that we can't live without!

Global Handwashing Day

Handwashing with soap and water is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal and acute respiratory infections, which take the lives of millions of children in developing countries every year. That is why on October 15th we will be celebrating Global Handwashing Day, a day to promote a regular practice of handwashing worldwide.

Please visit the Global Handwashing Day website to learn more about this all-important project.

Chicago Green Festival

This weekend, check out local and national green businesses and listen to a nationally renowned lineup of speakers covering all sorts of green topics at the Chicago Green Festival. There will also be how-to workshops, green careers, a Fair Trade pavilion, Youth Unity Pavilion, kids’ activities, delicious organic beer, wine and cuisine, and live music for your entertainment. Come on out to have a good time and learn about green technologies and strategies being used to make our communties better places to live.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rose George and the Politics of Toilets

I ran across this post by Rose George in The Washington Post, PostGlobal section. Rose George is a freelance journalist and author of The Big Necessity a fascinating and informative book about the global politics of human waste. Her post, The Politics of Toilets, discusses how inadequate sanitation plagues a quarter of the world's population and how few international resources and attention are devoted to this significant global issue. Most attention in developing countries is focused on access to clean water, not treating wastewater. This article reminds me how important treating wastewater is for a functioning society.

My Goals

Photo: I'm being sworn in by the Honorable Edmund Ponce de Leon.

As a recently re-elected Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, I feel that it is important to inform the public of my goals for this new term. Below is an excerpt from the speech I gave at my Installation Ceremony on December 2, 2008 that summarizes my priorities for the next six years.

There are many issues facing the water environment in our District, our state, and our nation today. As a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, newly re-elected to a second term, I believe that while it is important to create water quality improvement goals at national and global levels, stewardship of our water environment must begin by acting locally. I have a number of goals for my second term as a commissioner of the Water Reclamation District. I would like to share several of these priorities with you, which are aimed at further increasing the quality of the water environment within our District:

1) The completion of the capital improvement project at the District Water Reclamation Plants. These upgrades will allow the District to maintain our status as a world leader in wastewater treatment.
2) Preventing the entry of pharmaceutical drugs into watersheds by encouraging healthy lifestyles which would decrease the need for pharmaceutical use and, therefore, also decrease the amount of pharmaceutical disposal.
3) The construction of permanent hazardous products collection buildings at our District wastewater treatment plants giving the public the opportunity to dispose of their hazardous household products in a convenient, environmentally friendly way every day of the week.
4) Encouraging organic farming, landscaping, and other efforts to reduce the use of pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful fertilizers that increase non-point source pollution in our state, therefore assisting the District in protecting our water environment.
5) Encouraging water conservation efforts with an emphasis on the District leading the way as a role model for the rest of the community. This has already begun through various projects including the District’s prairie restoration project and rain barrel sales, which act to conserve and make use of valuable rain water. These efforts can continue through educational programs, such as a localized version of WEFTeach, which would bring teachers from community schools to the District for educational programs concerning wastewater treatment and water conservation. These teachers can then take that information back to their classrooms, helping educate the next generation of environmental professionals.
6) Bringing together religious groups and organizations based on a common belief in the importance of environmental stewardship. By combining their resources, these organizations can better achieve their common environmental goals.
7) Encouraging amendments to water regulations, such as the Clean Water Act non-point source regulations, that have reached a level of stagnation in their water improvement goals.

With these goals in mind, I believe that we can build a better water environment for our families and our community.

Wash Your Hands!

The first line of defense against the spread of disease is to wash your hands. This is an easy yet important habit that helps keep people healthy and happy. You should regularly wash your hands before and after eating or handling food, after coughing and sneezing, after touching animals, and after using the bathroom.

Please watch this public service announcement I made that teaches children the importance of washing their hands. Treating wastewater and washing hands go hand-in-hand -- they both help prevent the spread of disease!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Crestwood Public Forum

Last week, hundreds of citizens turned out for a public forum in Crestwood, IL to hear their questions answered about the village's decades long practice of mixing polluted well water into the city's drinking water supply. Read about the story here.

Field Museum Water Symposium

This Wednesday, May 13th, the Field Museum is hosting a symposium entitled Water: Sustaining Our Blue Planet. Here is a link for more information about this event. This roundtable should create some great discussion about the current state of water resources worldwide as well as presenting potential solutions for some of the problems facing our water supplies.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Letter Re: Crestwood, IL

As many of you have surely seen, it was recently revealed to the city of Crestwood, IL that the local government had been mixing tainted well water into their drinking water supplies for over twenty years.

In response to this disclosure, I sent a letter to the editors of a number of newspapers around the Chicago area. Though the letter was not published, I would like to share it with you now:

The recent revelation that the residents of Crestwood have been exposed to harmful chemicals in their drinking water for over twenty years highlights an all-too-present problem. Whether it is through ignorance or indifference, officials at every level of government have been under-reacting to environmental concerns that have the potential to cause serious harm to individuals and communities.

Though the case in Crestwood is more dramatic and immediately dangerous than most environmental issues, the lack of accurate and clear public information is an unsettling trend. I believe that government officials who hold information regarding environmental hazards from the public should have to answer for their dereliction of duty. When knowing disregard for human health and safety is carried out by individuals or corporations they pay heavy prices for their actions through large fines and, in severe cases, possible imprisonment. Government officials who put the community in equally dangerous positions by withholding information from the public or regulatory agencies should be held similarly accountable for their actions.

Governor Quinn has taken quick action in Crestwood, calling for an investigation into possible improprieties and the Illinois Attorney General’s office is looking into the matter, but the underlying issues still remain. Until we begin assigning true accountability to the people who hold this vital public information, until we begin making clear statements that environmental dangers should always be public knowledge, nothing will be done and we will be left with no recourse, just a blind hope for honesty.

Gov. Quinn Demands Crestwood Investigation

Here is an article about Governor Quinn demanding answers from the state EPA on Crestwood's tainted well.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Welcome to my Blog

Hello. My name is Commissioner Frank Avila of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. I thank you all for taking the time to come and read my blog.

Right now I would like to quickly introduce myself to all of you. I grew up on the Near West Side of Chicago before going on to the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana where I received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. I then completed my Master of Science in Finance from the University of Arizona before coming back to the Chicago area. After amassing over 40 years of experience as an engineer and land surveyor, including 26 years during which I owned and operated an engineering company, I was elected to the MWRD. Currently, I live in Chicago with my lovely wife, Sherry. Sherry and I have three children, all of whom are also Chicago residents.

I was re-elected to a second term as Commissioner in November of 2008 and I look forward to continuing to partake in the invaluable work that the MWRD does every day, protecting our water environment. I would like to use this space to help inform the public about environmental issues that face our city, state and nation. I will also post updated information on the work that I am doing, both as an elected official for the MWRD and as a citizen concerned with environmental stewardship.

Please check back in often to get the most recent updates on the issues, my work, and other fun things we happen to think are of interest.

For more information about the MWRD, please visit Thank you all for your time and support. Hopefully I will see you back here very soon.