CHICAGO - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District signed a project partnership agreement allowing the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to receive $33.8 million in federal funds Jan. 31.

Acting on behalf of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, R.D. James, this first-of-its-kind agreement allows the Chicago District to transfer funds to MWRD for the federal share of stage two of the McCook Reservoir combined sewage overflow project.

"We want to implement this pilot program with an organization that has the engineering, leadership, management and resources necessary to see this through. That organization is MWRD and the professionals that work there," said Col. Aaron Reisinger, commander and district engineer of the Corps' Chicago District.

The project partnership agreement was approved by the MWRD board of commissioners Jan. 24, which lead to the official signing Jan. 31. The transfer of funds happened immediately thereafter under authority of Section 1043 of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, which allows federal funds to transfer through the Corps to local sponsors for authorized projects.

"We thank the Chicago District for believing in the MWRD and the significance of this meaningful project that will help us protect our water environment and mitigate area flooding through the completion of the McCook Reservoir," said Kari Steele, president of the board of commissioners at MWRD.

The McCook Reservoir project is part of Chicago's Tunnel and Reservoir Plan that reduces water pollution by holding raw sewage in a reservoir until it can be treated - sewage that otherwise could have flooded into streams and rivers during heavy rain events when treatment facilities are overburdened. Stage one can hold 3.5 billion gallons of combined sewage overflow and stage two will hold an additional 6.5 billion gallons when it goes into service in 2029.

Both USACE and the Federal Government remain fully committed to the completion of stage two of the McCook Reservoir project. In this next stage, the Corps will ensure that the funding is used for the federal purpose and that the quality meets federal standards. An amount of $880,000 was retained by the Corps from the authorized total amount in the fiscal year 2018 work plan to oversee the project as it is built.

"Stage two of the reservoir is not yet complete and that is why we are here today," said project manager Mike Padilla at the signing ceremony. "Together the Corps and MWRD will draft a project management plan that will set out all of the components of the project and schedule and we will work together to approve plans and specifications."

Stage two completion activities include control of seepage from stage one to stage two during the period of performance; rock wall stabilization; rock wall and slope monitoring instrumentation; completion of inter-stage connecting tunnels; installation of an aeration system; and access improvements.

"It is great to know that funds to complete the reservoir have been secured and will be transferred to MWRD," said Padilla. "Until now there was great uncertainty if federal funds would be available to finish the project."

Construction began on stage one of the McCook reservoir in 1999 and completed in 2017.

"The McCook reservoir is a nationally significant engineering marvel. There are many unique things about the design and construction of the project itself that made it especially challenging," said Reisinger during the ribbon cutting ceremony for stage one in December 2017. "As we understand, there is nothing quite like it in the world."

As if to showcase the monumental achievement of USACE and MWRD, following stage one becoming operational on Jan. 1, 2018, the reservoir was put to the test when a storm event in February 2018 filled the reservoir to capacity. The reservoir performed as designed and prevented an estimated $30 million in flood damages in its debut performance.

It is estimated that throughout 2018 the McCook reservoir saved approximately $144 million in combined sewage overflow damages.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District has partnered with MWRD on the reservoirs of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan since 1976 when the Corps' Chief of Engineers recommended that the Chicagoland Underflow Plan be accomplished under the Corps' flood control program. This plan eventually led up to the construction of the McCook reservoir.

The Chicago District's mission focuses on flood risk management and storm damage reduction, navigation, environment, regulatory, emergency management, and interagency and international services in the Chicago metropolitan area, an area of about 5,000 square miles with a population of more than nine million.