March , 2019

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For the first time in its 124 year history, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) has a female head of engineering. The MWRD Board of Commissioners and executive director David St. Pierre appointed Bridgeport resident Dr. Catherine A. O’Connor to the post on June 7.

O’Connor joined the MWRD in 1998 as an associate environmental engineer and worked in an array of positions in the Engineering, Maintenance and Operations, Monitoring & Research Departments. In a profession that has historically been dominated by men, O’Connor has broken through the threshold based on her solid experience and educational accomplishments. In 1983, she received her Bachelors of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the State University of New York-Buffalo, and in 1993, she received her Masters of Science degree in Environmental Engineering degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. She also earned her Ph.D. from IIT in 2003 by writing a thesis titled “TiO2-Assisted Photocatalytic Reduction of Silver and Oxidation of Thiosulfate: Implications for Reuse of Photoprocessing Wash Water.”

O’Connor chose a career in environmental engineering over other fields because of her passion for minimizing our environmental impact.

“I was drawn to engineering because of my interest in solving problems and, later in my career, my interest in contributing to environmental protection,” said O’Connor. “The field of engineering allows one to be creative and work to solve real-world problems.”

O’Connor is the author or co-author of numerous scientific publications based on research conducted while working for the MWRD. For the past three years, she has served as the Assistant Director of Monitoring and Research, which is comprised of 65 professional and technical staff responsible for conducting environmental testing. She managed the analytical functions of the division’s laboratories, ensuring tests are conducted in conformance with approved analytical protocols. She also managed the MWRD’s Radiation Safety Program.

As head of the engineering department, O’Connor will be responsible for managing a staff of 282 engineers, technicians and support staff and capital budget in the range of $700 million to $800 million dollars, as well as the administration and enforcement of the MWRD’s sewer permit ordinance. Among O’Connor’s major tasks as the new director will be the implementation of the MWRD’s master plans at the Stickney, Calumet and North Side Water Reclamation Plants (WRPs), and the completion of the remaining elements of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, or “Deep Tunnel,” reservoirs. Her other responsibilities include directing the countywide Stormwater Management Plan, including implementation of green infrastructure where it will have maximum water quality benefit, and ensuring the timely completion of the new disinfection equipment at Calumet and North Side.

“I look forward to working with the world-class engineers at MWRD and being a part of the industry transition from ‘wastewater treatment and disposal’ to ‘resource recovery,’” said O’Connor. “We look forward to recovering heat, phosphorus, and becoming an operation that has a very positive impact on the environment.”

O’Connor recognizes that it is important to work alongside other area agencies to improve the water environment. “We are committed to working with other local organizations to further improve the Chicago River and other area streams and making Chicago a model for what is possible for urban waterways,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor is married to Said Al-Hallaj, and they have two children, Norah, six, and Jude, four. When she’s not working, O’Connor enjoys cooking and riding her bicycle with her family to Chicago Park District beaches.

“Dr. O’Connor is the absolute best person to fill this very important role,” said MWRD Executive Director David St. Pierre. “Her performance over the past 14 years has been outstanding, and she already possesses the knowledge, skills and relationships it takes to manage and construct important projects that have a huge impact on the lives of the residents of Cook County. I strongly anticipate that her enthusiasm for her work will have reverberations throughout the District. “


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