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ELECTIONS 2024 MWRD's Marcelino Garcia discusses flooding, land use and LGBTQ+ inclusion
by Jake Wittich

This article shared 13523 times since Fri Mar 8, 2024
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Marcelina Garcia, commissioner for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), is one of several candidates in the running to fill three seats on the board in the March 19 election. Garcia, who chair's the MWRD's Finance Committee, was first elected to the role in 2018 and hopes to be elected for another six-year term.

The MWRD is a nine-member board that is also responsible for protecting communities from flood damage and protecting the water quality of Lake Michigan, Chicago-area rivers and streams. It's also the second-largest landowner in Cook County.

Garcia, who is also an attorney, has led efforts to address flooding in the Chicago area and develop new policies to determine the best use for the MWRD's land. He spoke to Windy City Times about his proudest accomplishments so far, goals if elected to a second term and efforts to include LGBTQ+ people in the district's work.

Windy City Times: What do you see as the most pressing issue facing MWRD?

Marcelino Garcia: In our region, it's dealing with stormwater and flooding. We saw the floods last summer that affected a lot of our communities around the county, and they'll keep occurring. We need to keep developing programs that ensure we're able to deal with stormwater issues. We need to work more closely with the city of Chicago and municipalities to ensure that the water is able to get from the local sewers to our main tunnels.

We also need to keep educating people about how to build structures in a more eco-friendly manner — things like partnering with municipalities to create local reservoirs in places that are flood prone or making alleys with more permeable surfaces. Are there other ways we can prevent flooding from happening? We need to be looking at alternatives to make sure we're doing the right things with the right partners.

WCT: What role should MWRD play in addressing climate change?

MG: We should be at the forefront of getting partners together, whether its municipalities or foundations, thinkers and universities that are doing studies on climate change. But we also want to get input from the communities themselves. In my second term, I want to see more of us going into communities and educating them while listening to their concerns. We can do more forums, but we have to make sure they're a collaboration with the local elected officials and people who work in those areas.

WCT: What are your top concerns as the chair of finance for MWRD?

MG: Finance is really important to me. We maintain a AAA bond rating and we've put some of our funds into the First Women's Bank in Chicago. I'm a firm believer that we need to keep expanding our programs to make it easier for companies led by minority women, small businesses, veterans and LGBTQ+ people to be certified by us.

We also need to unbundle some of the big contracts we have out there to create avenues for smaller companies to be able to penetrate the market. I'm a believer that small businesses create a lot of work in the community, so helping them thrive will positively affect their communities.

WCT: MWRD owns the second-largest amount of land in Chicago. How can the district better use its various properties?

MG: This is an issue I've been actively involved in. I led a two-year discussion about our land-use policy, and it led to the creation of a new policy outlining 20 factors we need to consider when determining the most appropriate use for land. A lot of our land is close to rivers or some body of water, but we have a lot of older land in the North and South branches that can be used for various things. Should we lease it out? Is it for commercial purposes? Should we plant trees and create something? Or use it for recreational purposes? It's a delicate balancing act that the new policy will help us achieve.

WCT: What role should the MWRD play in monitoring wastewater for signs of disease outbreaks?

MG: That's something we need to do more of. Since the pandemic, we've done tests to look for COVID and other diseases, but I think we need to expand that program in the future. If you just test at the treatment plants, your catchment area is so big that you don't really know where the outbreaks may be originating. So we have to work closely with municipalities to see how we can do more localized outbreak testing. Technology to have more accurate counts of what's in the water will be expanding too, which should make this job easier.

WCT: What are your proudest accomplishments from your first term?

MG: One of the first things I achieved was co-leading our strategic plan with Debra Shore. It was the first time that the district had created a strategic plan with input from partners like local organizations, our employees and other stakeholders. In the past, the executive director usually made their own strategic plan.

Another big achievement was passing a policy for us to start counting the number of LGBTQ+ businesses we partner with, so we can in the future create an LGBTQ+ Business Enterprise Program. This policy stresses that we have to be involved with organizations like the Illinois LGBT Chamber of Commerce to start promoting the MWRD as a place to do business.

WCT: What's the importance of having LGBTQ+ representation in the MWRD?

MG: As a gay Latino, I have experiences from and represent two different backgrounds, and you need to have people from all backgrounds in order to understand the issues. This was shown last summer when we had major flooding and I — a native Spanish speaker — was able to lead discussions in Spanish in certain community areas. Then as a gay man, I was proud that my first year as a commissioner was also the first time that we raised the Pride flag at any of our facilities. The next year, I pushed for us to extend that to all of our sites. We also created a program to talk about LGBTQ+ issues during the month of June. By celebrating the diversity on our board, we're able to better educate people, present new ideas and learn new information.

This article shared 13523 times since Fri Mar 8, 2024
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