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Karen Roothaan: Candidate for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, 6-Year Term


WTTW’s 2018 Voters’ Guide to the Cook County Primary is an online resource designed to inform voters about the candidates running for office in the March 20 election.

Candidates were given two minutes to tell voters where they stand on the issues, why they feel they are best qualified and what they intend to do if elected or re-elected. The messages were recorded at the WTTW studios at no cost to the candidates. The Voters’ Guide is an online version of Candidate Free Time, pioneered by WTTW in the 1992 race for U.S. Senate. This year’s Candidate Free Time is produced with and underwritten in part by the League of Women Voters of Cook County.

About this office: Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) is governed by a nine-member board elected at-large with three commissioners elected every two years. On November 8, some candidates will run for six-year terms, while others will run for a term lasting two years.

MWRD treats water collected by sanitary and stormwater sewers in most of Cook County. It also serves as the Stormwater Management Utility for Cook County. Its mission is to protect the health and safety of citizens and area waterways.

About this candidate:

Name: Karen Roothaan
DOB: 5/26/1953
Residence: Chicago
Family: Daughter Nishi, partner Laurie Livermore
Occupation: Instructor at Purdue University Northwest
Political Experience: active in local community affairs since 2001
Website: ILGP.org

Candidate Q&A

What is your vision for this office?

My vision for this office is to serve the public interest and protect the environment. The MWRD should meet the highest standards of integrity and financial and environmental responsibility.

What is the most pressing issue facing constituents, and how can you help address it?

I believe the most pressing issue is the contaminants in treated wastewater and sewage sludge. I would address this issue through regular testing for hormones and drugs, not just heavy metals, as well as an aggressive educational campaign to reduce the contaminants that enter our drains and sewers through preventable actions.

Although this is the issue that concerns me the most, I recognize two other issues as very important to voters: flood prevention and equity in contracts awarded by the MWRD.

To address the issue of flooding we need to start by acknowledging the increase in severity of flooding. What was once considered a 100 year storm (one that would be expected to occur every 100 years or so) should now be expected more frequently. Capital-intensive projects such as Deep Tunnel are important, but to truly address the problem we also need to focus on smaller-scale more diffuse efforts that prevent water from entering the storm sewers.

To improve equity in contracts I support unbundling contracts where practical so that small businesses are able to bid on projects within their capacity.

Candidate Statement

Hello my name is Karen Roothaan. I am a native-born Chicagoan, a retired college teacher, and a proud member of the Green Party, the party dedicated to sustainability, environmental responsibility, and social justice.

I am running for the office of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, an agency responsible for treating the wastewater of over 7 million residents. One of the plants, located in Stickney, is one of the largest wastewater treatment plants in the world, treating 700 million gallons a day of wastewater, more during the heavy rains that are expected to increase in the future as our climate changes.

Many Chicago area residents have had to contend with flooding during heavy rains, because the system does not have the capacity to contain all the rain. This rain then mixes with raw untreated sewage in our sewer system, and may then exceed the capacity of the treatment plants.

During these heavy rains, expected to increase in frequency and intensity as our climate changes, the MWRD sometimes has to release water from the sewer into our waterways; this is known as Combined Sewer Outflow. In 2017 there were 57 days when this happened, and on one of those days the outflow ended up in Lake Michigan, the source of our drinking water. This is risk to our health, and these events are expected to happen more often.

Green Party candidates are calling for enhanced green infrastructure to cope with the new normal. Four of us will not appear on the ballot until the November election, but in the primary we have a fifth candidate, Geoffrey Cubbage, who is seeking your write-in vote. To vote for him you will have to request a Green Party ballot, and then write his name in.

Vote Green! Thank you, again, my name is Karen Roothaan, and I am asking for your vote in November. Until then, please pull a Green Party primary ballot, and write in Geoffrey Cubbage.

See more candidates for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner, 6-year term

Return to our 2018 Voters’ Guide to the Cook County Primary