Innovation H2O: “Building the Water-Centric City” » Urban Milwaukee
Innovation H2O

“Building the Water-Centric City”

The Milwaukee Water Council is making a name for itself on the international stage, and is holding its sixth annual summit next week at the Pfister Hotel.

By - Oct 2nd, 2012 11:32 am
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The Milwaukee Water Council will host the sixth annual Water Summit October 9-10.

More than 300 attendees are expected to hear 35 speakers from an international lineup of water experts at the sixth annual Water Summit hosted by the Milwaukee Water Council. The two-day summit, held at the Pfister Hotel, Oct. 9-10, will explore the scope of water issues facing the world. Milwaukee, making strides to become the world water hub, serves as a fitting backdrop for the conference.

“On the international level, Milwaukee has become synonymous with water,” says Dean Amhaus, executive director of the Water Council.

Amhaus credits Milwaukee’s propulsion to the forefront of the water technology field to emerging advances at the academic level, most notably, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, the first graduate school in the country dedicated to the study of freshwater. Additionally, the dozens of water technology companies clustered in the Milwaukee region solidify Milwaukee’s position as a center for water innovation.

But Milwaukee didn’t always have that reputation. “I remember when I was growing up here 40 years ago, you didn’t see fish swimming in the river. You saw them floating on top of the rivers,” says Amhaus. While Milwaukee has made tremendous progress in improving water quality, Amhaus recognizes that advancements can still be made.

Rendering of the Milwaukee Water Council Accelerator Building by Kahler Slater.

The new water research and business accelerator building being renovated in Walker’s Point and scheduled to open early next year could be the answer. The seven-story building will house a new office for the Water Council, research space for UWM, a host of existing water technology companies and a start-up space for emerging companies. The building embodies the Water Council’s three main objectives—economic, talent, and technology development, says Amhaus.

“Three years ago, when the Milwaukee Water Council became its own entity, we never even dreamed that we would be where we are today,” says Rachel Wilberding, Water Summit coordinator and communications and membership manager of the Water Council. “We’re being noticed on the international stage along places like Israel, Singapore, and the Netherlands.”

The theme of this year’s summit, “Building the Water-Centric City,” aims to explore solutions and raise awareness about the multi-faceted water issues that are plaguing cities, as well as villages, throughout the world.

“When the topic comes up about a big city’s infrastructure, we talk about roads, we talk about energy, we talk about buses and trains, but we don’t really talk about water,” says Amhaus. “Yet it’s central to how a city functions.”

One of the most pressing problems that will be addressed at the summit is the antiquated state of water supply and distribution infrastructure, as well as wastewater management infrastructure.

“The water infrastructure in this country and throughout the world is crumbling. It’s really at the end of its lifespan,” says Wilberding.

However, rebuilding the outdated infrastructure comes at a cost. The monetary investment required is estimated at a trillion dollars in the United States alone, and with an array of concerns about replacing existing pipes with new designs and technologies.

“Do we really want to replace old technology with old technology?” asks Wilberding. “No, we want to be using the latest and greatest technologies.”

Some of these new technologies and groundbreaking innovations may be unveiled at the Water Summit’s poster session, an inaugural interactive component that will showcase over 25 poster presentations from researchers, students, and industry members, according to Wilberding. “It gives folks a chance to get an overview of what some of the industry and academic people are doing without a full 20-minute powerpoint demonstration.”

One of four workshops at the summit will focus on an innovation that Milwaukee has excelled at—green infrastructure. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District‘s efforts to capture stormwater, eliminate sewage overflow, and reduce nonpoint source pollution have garnered national recognition through its promotion of rooftop gardens, bioswales, and rain barrels, says Wilberding.

Last Call at the Oasis: A film by Jessica Yu screening at the Milwaukee Film Festival.

A new feature this year at the water summit arises from the Water Council’s collaboration with Milwaukee Film Festival. The Milwaukee premiere of the film Last Call at the Oasis, a documentary about the global water crisis, will be screened at the Oriental Theatre and sponsored by the Water Council. The screening concludes the first day of the summit and coincides with the Council’s mission to share its passion for water while educating the community, says Wilberding.

“What we really strive to do at the summit is to bring together people from all over the water sector to look at these issues in a very multi-faceted and holistic way,” says Wilberding.

Keynote speakers this year include Pat Mulroy of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, Peter Ellis, founder and president of Peter Ellis New Cities, Fred Dubee, special advisor to the executive office of the United Nations’ Secretary General, and French senate member Christian Cambon.

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