Cameron Davis

Evanstonian Cameron Davis says, “Water is life.”

Mr. Davis, who is running for a post as a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Commissioner, added, “We rely on clean water, especially in this region, for our economic health, public health, recreation – the quality of life that we have here in the metropolitan region.”

He won the March 2018 primary election as a write-in after the death of MWRD Commissioner Tim Bradford, and Mr. Davis is now looking ahead to November’s General Election. 

But even if Mr. Davis is successful, he may end up defending his victory in court. On March 23, three days after the Primary Election, Governor Bruce Rauner appointed David Walsh to replace Mr. Bradford, and the Governor’s staff made it known he wants Mr. Walsh to serve until 2020, when Mr. Bradford’s term would have ended.

“We don’t think [Gov. Rauner] can do it under the law, but the bottom line is that I’m running in November,” Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Davis said that he decided to run for the Commission post to have a role in the District’s mission adding to the region’s quality of life he mentioned.

“It’s a $1.3 billion agency that employs more than a thousand people, all to keep private property from flooding, ensure water quality and make sure that our waterways are healthy,” he added. “…My whole career has been dedicated to the public interest in clean water, so when this opening came, when Commissioner Bradford unfortunately passed away, I thought, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to run for office.’ But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had to do it.”

Mr. Davis grew up in Wilmette. His family regularly went to the beach in the summer and, he recalled, “It was then I began to realize how great Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes are, and I began to pursue that passion.”

He was for several years President Barack Obama’s Senior Advisor to the Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or, colloquially, President Obama’s “Great Lakes Czar,” overseeing Great Lakes restoration.

The presidential appointment was “an honor” for Mr. Davis. “We set a course that I think was very difficult to stop. The secret to that success was just not playing games. It was funding good projects that did what they were supposed to do, so people can feel good about their water supply, and go to the beach, and do that every place around the Great Lakes. It’s not about politics. It was a very huge challenge, and I’m lucky I had a very supportive wife who took care of the kids while I was in D.C. and around the region.”

After leaving his position, Mr. Davis both went to work as a consultant for an engineering firm and founded a website that helps persons assemble and recount their individual and family stories.

“My great passions are family, the Great Lakes and helping people tell their stories,” he said. “I’m a big believer in the power of stories to get your point across.”

Should he be elected, Mr. Davis would like to see the Chicago region become “the green infrastructure capital of the world. I want to see us use nature to reduce flooding, improve water quality, and train people for I think is going to be a new and big employment sector. That’s something that will help for equality across the board. I think the District can be a force for equality across the region.”

A specific, local example of “green infrastructure” he offered is the parking lot of Evanston’s Trader Joe’s store.

“If you look at the parking lot, it’s permeable,” he explained. “So if the rain comes down, a lot of it comes down in the cracks between the bricks, and that water goes back into the universe, rather than into a gutter for MWRD to ultimately treat. There’s no reason we should be sending billions of gallons of rain water back to MWRD – it’s expensive and it overwhelms the system.”

He said the current presidential administration has been “atrocious” on Great Lakes conservation.

“Last year, they proposed completely cutting the Great Lakes program,” he explained. “Then this year they proposed a 90% cut, which is effectively an elimination of the program as well. That’s not leadership. That’s not protecting future generations. That’s abdication. That’s all the more reason that municipal agencies like the District have to step up more in terms of stewarding our water resources.”

Despite agreements between states as to how resources from the Great Lakes can and cannot be utilized, agencies such as MWRD face enormous challenges when other jurisdictions’ actions can leave behind a significant environmental impact.

For example, New Taipei City, Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology’s plans for a display screen plant in Mount Pleasant, Wis., will reportedly result in millions of gallons of water being drawn from Lake Michigan each day. Mr. Davis said MWRD and other agencies have important roles in mitigating possible effects from decisions made elsewhere.

MWRD, he said, “has huge roles to play in reducing river-reversals, educating people on the importance of water, and innovating, as well. In terms of research and development, also coming up with the best technology and practices, it’s all about how we steward our waterways around the region. … We’re in good company, too. Milwaukee is doing a good job. Michigan City, Indiana, is playing a leadership role.”

He added he is grateful for the “huge role” Evanston residents played in his primary victory. 

“We were outside the Civic Center every day when early voting started,” Mr. Davis said. “The Democratic Party of Evanston played a big role in launching the campaign and helping to get volunteers. Evanston was really our launch pad.”