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November 8, 2016 — Illinois General Election
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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Board of CommissionersCandidate for CommissionerFull 6-year term

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Karen Roothaan

I teach mathematics at the college level, currently part-time.
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • I would like to stop the distribution of biosolids (treated sewage sludge) to community gardens and schools. Our children should not be exposed to the many chemicals found in biosolids.
  • I hope to improve the distribution of rain barrels to the public, and ensure that they are actually used.
  • To provide fair opportunities for minority contractors, including the unbundling of contracts where practical, to allow small businesses to make bids



Brown University Master of Science, Mathematics (1978)

Who supports this candidate?

Featured Endorsements

  • The Chicago Sun Times

Questions & Answers

Questions from Chicago Sun-Times (8)

How would you expand the removal of such nutrients as phosphorus — which harm aquatic life — to all MWRD plants?
Answer from Karen Roothaan:

According to MWRD's own 2014 paper on its three demonstartion projects, the challenges are multiple.

Biological removal is ideal but only works on the organic portion, however, most of the phosphorus is in inorganic forms that very gradually convert to organic forms. Chemical removal, which works on inorganic phosphorus, causes a significant increase in sludge volume, and the phosphorus in the sludge is not biologically available, thus not a good plant nutrient. Much of the inorganic phosphorus comes from the use of synthetic cleaning agents, and although there has been a significant reduction in phosphorus in these products, the levels of these chemicals going down our drains is still too high.

The MWRD lists multiple strategies to lower the level of phosphorus at the front end of the cycle. The list included many good ideas for homes, businesses, and institutions, but finding it was not easy. It was at the end of a mong and somewhat technical article. In the years I have been studying the MWRD, I have never seen this list in any of their generally available literature, and that is unfortunate. They have some answers, yet are not actively getting the information out to the public.

I have also seen, during these years, a big improvement in the MWRD's educational materials on storm water management, so there is room for optimism. Given their improvement in one area I would strive to improve educational materials on phosphorus reduction as well. Every milligram of phosphorus that does not go down the drain is one less milligram that will need to be removed.

How would you expand public awareness of combined sewer overflow notifications, which are intended in part to alert people recreating in Chicago area waterways?
Answer from Karen Roothaan:

I would use electric signs, like the ones used at bus stops and train stations, at key points along the waterways, where fisherman and boaters can see current conditions. In places where such signs would be impractical, I would post a phone number a visitor could text for that day's data, also used at bus stops. I would also collaborate with environmental organizations and outdoor recreation groups to create social media networks to disseminate the information.

What do you see as the MWRD’s role in controlling litter in our waterways?
Answer from Karen Roothaan:

MWRD should control litter in its own waterways; also require its tenants to do the same. Areas where the public has access to the waterways should have adequate trash cans. I would also like to see the MWRD collaborate with the community groups that often act as stewards in these areas to address the issue.

The Sun-Times has written about the problem of tenants on MWRD land who release chemical pollutants into the local waterways. Please provide strategies for the best use of MWRD land holdings to meet the district’s statutory duties and advance the district’s goals.
Answer from Karen Roothaan:

One of the worst offenders mentioned in the article was Olympic Oil, whose 39 year lease is not even half over. (The MWRD narrowly missed being sued by the IEPA for the violations.)

With a problem tenant of this type, I would first look at every possible violation of the lease provisions, even if not directly related to environmental issues. I would try to use whatever I could as leverage to get the company to improve its safety and environmental responsibility.

The rent collected in this particular lease barely pays the property taxes, so I would also not renew the lease, unless the problem tenant can not only improve but also pay more rent.

To address the general issue, I would create standards for all tenants including fines for violations that would adequately cover cleanup costs and penalties such as early lease termination.

What is the appropriate role of the MWRD in regional efforts to deal with the problems of storm water management and Asian carp?
Answer from Karen Roothaan:

The MWRD should cooperate with other government agencies to develop regional strategies. Local communities surrounding affected waterways should be involved in both planning and implementation of these strategies.

Why would you say is there still significant flooding in the Chicago region, including the south and north suburbs? What should be the MWRD’s role in mitigating flooding?
Answer from Karen Roothaan:

We still have significant flooding because the severity and intensity of our storms are increasing. I see this on a global and national level; I also see it in my own yard, where over the past 15 years I have learned to manage increasing amounts of storm water. I do not use only one strategy: I have rain barrels with appropriately placed overflow and drain hoses, a larger storage tank, and two drainage ditches. Some of the water goes to parkway trees and the prairie perennial garden in the vacant lot behind my house, but I still have a lot of work to do.

Similarly, but on a much larger scale, I believe that to mitigate flooding no one strategy will work. We will need capital-intensive "gray infrastructure" such as Deep Tunnel; we will also need ways to spread out and soften the impact of intense storms. Small-scale efforts diffused over large areas can be vital, but this would require extensive public education and involvement.

  I also believe that given the increasing intensity of the storms it is unrealistic to expect to solve the problem once and for all. We should expect the unexpected and somehow prepare for it.

On the residential scale, this would include rain barrels, rain gardens, and gutter disconnection. On a neighborhood scale, diversion of runoff into bioswales or ponds, especially in areas with vacant areas that have wildlife or other positive ecosystem benefits, could convert storm water from a liability into an asset.

Will more steps need to be taken to alleviate North Side flooding after the Albany Park tunnel opens?
Answer from Karen Roothaan:

After reviewing the Hydraulic Analysis on the Albany Park Tunnel Project prepared for CDOT and the MWRD, I saw that 100 year, 10 year, and 2 year flood events were used to model water levels and velocity. Given the rapid increase in the severity of the floods in recent years (both locally and globally) any analysis that does not also include more extreme events may have limited application. The tunnel will certainly help, but more steps will eventually need to be taken.

How would you protect the ducks being sucked into the disinfection facility at the O’Brien Treatment plant?
Answer from Karen Roothaan:

I am going to duck this question. It is not that I do not care about ducks; I just need to learn more about this problem.

Videos (1)

Karen Roothaan tells why she should be a commissioner on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board.

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