Obama’s ‘Great Lakes Czar’ runs for reelection at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

By Nicole Girten
Medill Reports

Commissioner Cameron Davis, former President Obama’s point person on the Great Lakes, is running to retain his seat at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in part to tackle the issue of flooding in Chicago.

Climate change in Chicago takes the form of extreme weather and severe storms. The water levels in Lake Michigan have risen six feet since 2013 and the Army Corps. of Engineers is predicting that they will continue to rise in 2020. The lake levels have risen, in part, because warmer waters evaporating into the atmosphere are causing storms to be more severe and more frequent.

As a commission board member, Davis’ duties include setting the policy agenda and managing the agency’s $1.1 billion budget. Davis has served on the board of commissioners since 2018 when he ran for the seat left vacant by the late commissioner Tim Bradford. When he ran for that seat Davis broke the record for write-in candidates, superseding Franklin Roosevelt by 6,622 votes. Davis will be on the Cook County ballot in the next election in March.

Davis said his interest in public service was inspired by one of his ancestors, Levi Davis, who worked closely with Abraham Lincoln when he was a railroad lawyer in Springfield, Ill. before he became president. Growing up in the Chicago area, he said the Great Lakes were always a backdrop in his childhood.

“For this region, the Great Lakes are our lifeblood,” he said in an interview.

Davis completed his undergraduate studies at Boston University but returned to Chicago when he enrolled in the Illinois Institute of Technology’s environmental and energy law program.

After teaching at the University of Michigan Law School for six years, Davis became involved in Alliance for the Great Lakes, a non-profit which aims to protect the Great Lakes. He eventually became its president and served as an advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency throughout Obama’s eight years in office.

During his tenure in Washington, D.C., he worked with Congress to secure $2 billion to protect the drinking water supply in the Great Lakes and helped to keep the Asian Carp, an invasive species, out of the Great Lakes when they started migrating there.

“We helped clean up toxic hotspots and helped protect the drinking water supply for tens of millions of people,” Davis said.

At the end of the Obama administration, Davis decided his way to continue the fight to protect the Great Lakes was to run for office.

“I did something I never thought I’d do,” Davis said.

One of his campaign promises for his next six-year term is to “reduce flooding, especially in our most vulnerable communities.”

Climate change in Chicago takes the form of extreme weather and severe storms, which leads to increased stormwater.

“We’re going to have rainier and rainier springs,” Davis said.

According to the Regional Flood Susceptibility Index, some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods to this rainwater are suburbs that are southwest of Chicago, like Cicero and Burbank.

Davis wants to reduce the flooding by pushing the Space to Grow program, which installs green infrastructure in underserved neighborhoods, to communities in the suburbs. The program redesigns schoolyards by adding flora that could beautify a playground while also capturing rainfall naturally. The program, which is partly managed by the Water Reclamation District, has worked with 34 schools to date.

Davis said he believes the EPA under the Trump Administration was trying to roll back environmental protections, and he feels he needs to work really hard to fight against it.

“This is my way to try and protect our public health,” Davis said.

Photo at top: Cameron Davis is running for reelection as a commissioner on the board at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. He will be on the Cook County ballot on March 17. (Cam Davis 4 Us Metropolitan Water Reclamation District/Facebook)