Longtime Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Terrence O’Brien, who once ran for Cook County Board president, dead at 68

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A Chicago native, Terrence O’Brien dedicated a third of his life to working on improving the regions’s water environment, serving four six-year terms as commissioner of the MWRD. | Sun-Times Media

A Chicago native, Terrence O’Brien dedicated a third of his life to working on improving the region’s water environment, serving on the board of commissioners 24 years, including 16 as president.

Terrence O’Brien, the longtime president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago who once ran for Cook County Board president, died Sunday after battling a lengthy illness, the MWRD announced in a news release. He was 68.

A Chicago native, O’Brien dedicated a third of his life to working on improving the region’s water environment, serving on the board of commissioners for 24 years, including 16 as president. He followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, becoming the third generation O’Brien to work at the MWRD facility in Skokie, which was renamed in the youngest O’Brien’s honor in 2012.

Terrence O’Brien, who died Sunday, dedicated a third of his life to working on improving the regions’s water environment.

As the former head of the MWRD, O’Brien was in charge of the agency responsible for every drop of water that goes down a drain or into a sewer in the 883.5 square miles of Chicago and 125 neighboring communities.

Under his watch, much of the agency’s focus was on the decades-long plan to build a series of tunnels and reservoirs to keep rain and wastewater out of area waterways and basements.

The relatively unknown government agency also treats wastewater in seven plants in the area.

O’Brien successfully lobbied for millions in federal funding for the mega project and in 2004 helped guide the passage of state legislation that gave the district the responsibility to address flooding issues throughout Cook County.

He also instituted the (800) 332-DUMP pollution hotline for citizens to report illegal dumping of materials into sewers and waterways.

While serving as board president — a part-time position — the agency had a budget that exceeded $1 billion and employed more than 2,100 workers.

O’Brien tested his political fortunes in 2010 as a Democratic candidate in an unsuccessful bid to unseat then Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. Toni Preckwinkle, who currently holds the position, won that election.

O’Brien retired in 2012, opening a seat on the board that was later filled by former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew, Patrick Daley Thompson.


Sun-Times Media
This is a file photo of MWRD president Terrence O’Brien, a Democratic candidate for Cook County Board president, voting at County building on the first day of early voting in 2010.

MWRD President Kari K. Steele said she’s been honored to follow in O’Brien’s footsteps.

“It was President O’Brien’s leadership and principles that carved a path for all of us to protect public health and our water environment and provide excellent, innovative and reliable service that taxpayers across Cook County deserve,” Steele said in a statement. “We are forever grateful for his 24 years of service and dedication to the people of Cook County and our environment. His family legacy will forever be instilled in the work of the MWRD.”

A graduate of Loyola Academy and John Carroll University, O’Brien was born and raised in Rogers Park and lived in Edgebrook. He worked for various consulting firms managing engineering projects to protect the environment. In 2016, he founded the O’Brien Network, LLC, which offered a range of services to its clients from business development, governmental relations, consulting advisory to strategic services, coalition building and project oversight.

O’Brien is survived by his wife, Julie, and three children, Kevin, Therese and Patrick, the MWRD said.

Details on memorial services weren’t immediately available.

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February 28, 2021 at 05:00PM

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