Site logo

Stickney Water Reclamation Plant

The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, located in Cicero, Illinois, is one of the largest wastewater treatment plants in the world. It has a daily capacity to treat up to 1.2 billion gallons of wastewater, serving over 5 million residents in the Chicago metropolitan area. The plant is operated by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), which is responsible for protecting the water quality of Lake Michigan and the surrounding waterways.

History of the Plant

The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant was first constructed in the late 1920s to address the growing pollution problem in the Chicago River and its tributaries. At that time, untreated sewage and industrial waste were being discharged directly into the waterways, causing significant environmental and public health concerns.

The original plant was named after Mayor John J. Hanberg, but its name was later changed to Stickney in honor of John B. Stickney, a former MWRD trustee who played a key role in the development of the plant. Over the years, the plant underwent several expansions and upgrades to keep up with the increasing demand for wastewater treatment in the region.

Technology and Processes

The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant utilizes advanced technology and processes to treat the massive volume of wastewater that flows through its facilities every day. The treatment process includes several stages, each designed to remove different types of contaminants and pollutants from the water.

1. Primary Treatment: The first stage of wastewater treatment at Stickney involves the removal of large solids and debris from the incoming sewage. This is done through a series of screens and settling tanks, where the solids settle to the bottom and are removed.

2. Secondary Treatment: In the secondary treatment stage, the wastewater undergoes a biological treatment process where microorganisms break down organic matter and nutrients in the water. This process helps reduce the levels of pollutants in the water and improves water quality.

3. Tertiary Treatment: The final stage of treatment at Stickney involves additional processes to further purify the water before it is discharged back into the environment. This includes filtration, disinfection, and nutrient removal to meet stringent water quality standards.

Environmental Impact

The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant plays a crucial role in protecting the water quality of Lake Michigan and the surrounding waterways. By treating wastewater before it is released back into the environment, the plant helps prevent pollution and contamination of the region’s water resources.

In addition to its environmental benefits, the plant also helps promote water conservation by recycling and reusing treated wastewater for non-potable purposes such as irrigation, industrial processes, and cooling water. This helps reduce the demand for fresh water and lessen the strain on the region’s water supply.

Community Outreach

The MWRD is committed to engaging with the local community and educating the public about the importance of water conservation and environmental protection. The district offers tours of the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant to school groups, community organizations, and other interested parties to learn about the plant’s operations and its role in safeguarding the region’s water quality.

The MWRD also conducts outreach programs and public awareness campaigns to promote water conservation and encourage residents to take action to protect the environment. By working together, the district and the community can help ensure a sustainable future for the region’s water resources.

Future Expansion

Despite its size and capacity, the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant faces challenges in meeting the growing demand for wastewater treatment in the region. The MWRD is continuously exploring ways to expand and upgrade the plant to improve its efficiency and effectiveness in treating wastewater.

One potential solution being considered is the implementation of advanced technology and processes, such as membrane filtration and nutrient recovery, to further enhance the plant’s treatment capabilities. These upgrades could help increase the plant’s capacity and reduce its environmental footprint, making it even more sustainable and efficient in the long run.


The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant is a critical piece of infrastructure that plays a vital role in protecting the water quality of Lake Michigan and the surrounding waterways. Through its advanced technology and processes, the plant helps treat and clean billions of gallons of wastewater every day, ensuring a safe and healthy environment for residents in the Chicago metropolitan area.

As the region continues to grow and develop, the Stickney plant will need to adapt and expand to meet the increasing demand for wastewater treatment. With ongoing investment in infrastructure and technology, the plant can continue to fulfill its mission of safeguarding the environment and promoting water conservation for future generations to come.