The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) quietly made history this month by electing its first African-American woman president in its 130-year history.
Kari Steele, 43, an environmentalist elected in November to her second six-year term on the $1.1 billion agency’s nine-member board, was unanimously elected president on Jan. 10.
She is the only professional chemist on the board overseeing Cook County’s seven sanitary and flood protection plants serving Chicago and 125 municipalities — including the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, the world’s largest. Board presidents serve two-year terms.
“This year is our 130th anniversary, and it was in 2012, when I started my first term, that we elected our first female president ever,” noted Steele, born and raised in South Side Chatham.
“Six years later, I have had women colleagues, and African-American women colleagues, come to my office with tears in their eyes. They cannot believe how the district has transformed, the groundbreaking changes we’ve made since then with diversity on the board.”