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Chicago's Water Commissioner Resigns Ahead Of Lead Contamination Testing

By Sophie Lucido Johnson in News on Apr 8, 2016 4:03PM

Glass of water (photo via [cipher] on Flickr

Following Monday's announcement that Chicago is preparing a water testing program to determine whether the city's pipes are partly responsible for problems with lead poisoning, Water Management commissioner Tom Powers has announced his resignation. Powers has so far served as Mayor Rahm Emanuel's sole Water Management commissioner, and he will be replaced by Barrett Murphy—a deputy who has worked for the city since his appointment by former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“Over the last five years, Tom has overseen an historic investment in Chicago’s infrastructure that has helped to build a better Chicago and I thank him for his service to the city,” Emanuel said in a statement. The Sun-Times reported that Powers was Emanuel's frequent choice to head infrastructure projects because of his emphasis on working efficiently. It's possible that this emphasis on efficiency over scrutiny may have cost the city: Emanuel ambitiously tasked Powers with doubling water and sewer rebuilding rates over a four-year period. Powers followed through, overseeing the replacement of 320 miles of water main, 77 miles of sewer main, and the lining of 198 miles of existing sewers.

Emanuel is close friends with Murphy's wife, Lynn Lockwood. Lockwood once chaired a political fund-raising committee for the mayor; the Sun-Times also reported that she had a one-year $160,000 consulting contract with Choose Chicago in 2014. Mayor Dayley hired Murphy in 1999.

In a statement Emanuel said, "Moving forward, Barrett Murphy’s vast knowledge of and experience within the Department make him the best choice for the job as we continue to implement our 10-year Capital Improvement Program."

The Chicago Department of Public Health revealed the tap water testing program Monday during a presentation to lawyers, physicians, researchers and advocates. In the wake of the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, researchers hope that the tap water testing will begin to address Chicago's ongoing problems with lead poisoning, which disproportionately affects children in South and West side neighborhoods that are low-income and predominantly African-American.

Murphy’s appointment is subject to City Council approval. He will begin in an interim capacity on May 1.