About the MWRD

What exactly is the Metropolitan Water Reclamation of Greater Chicago?

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) is an independent government and taxing body encompassing approximately 91 percent of the land area and 98 percent of the assessed valuation of Cook County, Illinois.


The District’s seven water reclamation plants provide treatment for residential and industrial wastewater, meeting permitted discharge limits virtually at all times. The treatment process is protected by a pretreatment program to guard against hazardous substances and toxic chemicals. These are strictly regulated pursuant to federal and state requirements. The District is responsible for monitoring all industries and non-residential sources to assure that wastes are disposed of in an environmentally responsible and lawful manner.


Treated wastewater, along with runoff from rainfall, enters local canals, rivers and streams that serve as headwaters of the Illinois River system. Stormwater in the separate sewered area is controlled to reduce flood damages by a number of stormwater detention reservoirs.


Flow within the District’s waterway system and the Lake Michigan discretionary diversion flow are controlled by three inlet structures on Lake Michigan: Wilmette Pumping Station, Chicago River Controlling Works and O’Brien Lock and Dam. The single outlet control structure is the Lockport Powerhouse and Controlling Works.


While exercising no direct control over wastewater collection systems owned and maintained by cities, villages, sewer districts and utilities, the District does control municipal sewer construction by permits outside the city of Chicago. It also owns a network of intercepting sewers to convey wastewater from the local collection systems to the water reclamation plants.


The MWRDGC is governed by a nine–member Board of Commissioners, who are elected at large and serve on a salaried part–time basis. Three Commissioners are elected every two years for six–year terms. Biannually, the Board elects from its membership a President, Vice President, and Chairman of the Committee on Finance.


The District was originally organized as the Sanitary District of Chicago in 1889 under an act of the Illinois General Assembly which has been modified from time to time to increase the District’s authority and jurisdiction. The enabling act in 1889 was in direct response to a long standing problem with contamination of the water supply and nuisance conditions of the rivers. The District reversed the flow of the Chicago and Calumet River Systems to stop the discharge of sewage to Lake Michigan and instead, discharge it to the Des Plaines River, where it could be diluted as it flowed into the Illinois River and eventually the Mississippi River. Prior to the District’s construction of a 61.3 mile system of canals and waterway improvements, the Chicago and Calumet River Systems were tributary to Lake Michigan. These river systems are now tributary to the Illinois River system.


From 1955 through 1988, the District was called The Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago. In order to provide a more accurate perception of the District’s current functions and responsibilities, the name was changed effective, January 1, 1989, to Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.


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