Aug 13, 2009

Milwaukee Water Consortium Meets to Discuss Challenges

Speakers suggest the cost of water and climate change will motivate people and industries to return to the Milwaukee area

In April, the United Nations designated Milwaukee as one of 14 cities comprising the Global Compact Cities Programme and the only city focused entirely on all aspects of water quality. As a member of the Cities Programme, a consortium of Milwaukee organizations represented by government, academia and business will work toward solutions to a number of serious environmental and other water challenges: eliminating phosphorous from sewage, removing road salt and other contaminants from storm water runoff, generating and using energy from sewage being treated and developing and installing residential grey water systems.

On July 20 many of these participants met when the Milwaukee 7 Water Council convened Water Summit III: The True Costs and Opportunities of Water where leaders from local and international business, technology, education and environmental organizations met to discuss the value and “true price” of water. Multiple presenters addressed different perspectives of the increasing value of freshwater, and how Milwaukee’s strength in water technology and its proximity to Lake Michigan uniquely positions it for investment and economic development.

“As the value of water becomes a more critical input component of almost all the items we consume, we are now adding the term ‘water footprint’ to our lexicon,” said Jud Hill, managing partner of Summit Global Management, a global private investment firm focused exclusively on investing in the water sector. “We are now beginning to consider the total input cost of the water necessary to make the products we use every day; for example, it takes 100 gal of water to make a ream of paper and a whopping 8,000 gal to manufacture one pair of shoes.”

“Water utilities are significant consumers of energy,” said Hill. “About 3% of U.S. energy is consumed moving water. In California it’s 15% to 20%. Water is heavy. It weighs about 8 lb per gallon, which makes it a very local commodity. In many cases the allocation of water is a much greater issue than water availability. For example, about 80% of the water used in the West is for agricultural purposes. We’re putting in desalination plants in San Diego where it costs up to $7 per 1000 gal for water while some agricultural consumers are paying substantially less than 1/100th of that amount to grow crops in these near desert regions. We need to think about water stewardship and how we allocate the resource (our water footprint) in conjunction with how we employ new water saving solutions.”

“The Water Summit was an ideal place to pool the water industry brainpower we have in the southeastern Wisconsin community and to reach out to speakers bringing terrific perspectives from outside the region and all over the world. By continuing our momentum, Milwaukee can continue its ascent to become the world leader in the water-related research and engineering industry,” said Rich Meeusen, chairman, and president & CEO of Badger Meter and co-chair of the Water Council. “The discussion and ideas from today’s Water Summit certainly helped us move toward that goal.”

The Milwaukee area is home to the Great Lakes WATER Institute, the largest academic freshwater research facility on the Great Lakes. In 2009, the Milwaukee area further increased its stature as a global freshwater hub with Wisconsin’s commitment of $240 million in capital funding to help support the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and its new School of Freshwater Sciences—the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The region is also home to more than 120 businesses that serve some aspect of the water industry including five of the world’s largest water companies that have headquarters or other major operations in the area.

To access videos and slides of the Water Summit presentations and to learn more about the Milwaukee 7 Water Council, visit