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Working with large industrial users in the Calumet and Stickney corridors to find reuse opportunities, 
this would provide cost savings to the industrial users and increase fresh water availability for 
communities.   

Applying recovery to nutrients, Ostara’s Pearl nutrient recovery technology was implemented in 2016 to 
reduce nutrient effluent to the Mississippi River Basin and reduce its hypoxia impact in the Gulf of 
Mexico. This is the world’s largest nutrient recovery facility, and 10,000 tons are expected to be 
produced annually.  The MWRD is also researching the sustainability of growing algae in a “vertical 
revolving” fashion; this would reduce the footprint to grow an equivalent algae biomass in a surface 
pond and simplify the harvesting process. The algae could remove at least 50% of phosphorus from 
wastewater and can be commoditized for production of bioplastics, biochemicals, biofuels, or 
aquaculture feed.  

Further afield, the MWRD seeks solutions on a watershed basis by implementing a holistic program to 
address water issues. The Tunnel and Reservoir Plan cost-effectively responded to water quality 
standards with four tunnel systems totaling 109.4 miles in the 375 square mile combined sewer area. 
Most recently, the Thornton Composite Reservoir came online, providing flood relief for 556,000 people 
and 182,000 structures in 14 communities throughout the south side of the MWRD community, and 
improving water quality in the Calumet Rivers and Calumet-Sag Channel.    

The second prong of this program is collaboration with stakeholders. The MWRD worked with county 
governments to develop plans for the six major watersheds, each listing areas of concern, potential 
capital improvement projects, and an implementation plan. The MWRD also spearheaded a workgroup 
to research creation of an “Environmental Utility,” a state-wide entity to target the most cost-effective 
and high-impact watershed projects.  

MWRD policies promoting green infrastructure (GI) also call for collaboration. The Watershed 
Management Ordinance requires developments in suburban Cook County to implement GI to capture 
stormwater runoff on-site. Concurrently, the MWRD’s Comprehensive Land Use Policy requires new 
governmental tenants to install GI, while a rent credit encourages new commercial tenants to do so also.   

Fundamental to the watershed is water quality. Sidestream Elevated Pool Aeration stations pump up to 
1.3 billion gallons of water daily to add 25 tons of oxygen into the Chicago Area Waterway System. 
Ambient water quality monitoring is conducted at 28 locations; samples are analyzed regularly for over 
30 constituents and organic priority pollutants. An indicator of this water quality is the number of fish 
species present – the MWRD currently counts 58.  

Although the MWRD tries its best to provide flood solutions, sometimes prevention is just not possible; 
in those cases, the MWRD and local jurisdictions identify residential structures subject to flooding, 
purchase the property, clear the structure, and maintain the land as open space in perpetuity. To date 
18 structures have become open parkland, and 184 more are planned for conversion.  

With a focus on excellence, collaboration, and innovation, the MWRD marches on in protecting the 
environment, improving its communities, and maximizing every tax dollar. Through the lofty goals of its 
leaders, the creative ideas of its staff, and the cooperation of its partners, the MWRD is transforming the 
concept of water management from waste to opportunity.