It’s been almost a decade since The Water Council opened its Global Water Center at 247 Freshwater Way in Milwaukee, a facility dedicated to making the city and region the “Silicon Valley” of freshwater research and technology. While The Water Council’s goals for both the organization itself and the Global Water Center have remained largely the same, the path to reaching those goals has been shaped by a growing awareness amongst companies of environmental issues. The Water Council now finds itself taking on more corporate initiatives, adding to its multi-pronged approach to tackling water issues. “There’s more and more businesses saying we have to actually look at our water risk and operations, because of the dramatic changes that are going on, whether it’s not enough water, too much, water quality… It has become a larger component of our work because more and more companies are needing this help,” said Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council. When the organization was first founded, it was exclusively focused on innovation. At the same time, The Water Council had been helping the Alliance for Water Stewardship create a set of standards that would allow companies to better understand their water use and impacts. The Water Council eventually took on a bigger role, serving as the Alliance for Water Stewardship’s North American regional partner. “Our engagement increased at that point and it was a recognition that those industrial users are a big aspect of water challenges. That has intensified over the last 10 years, six years and even more so over the last two years,” Amhaus said. It can be a challenge for some companies to take part in a program like the Alliance for Water Stewardship due to financial, personnel and time constraints. This is a big part of the reason The Water Council created its WAVE program, which launched in February. WAVE helps companies improve water stewardship performance and overall reporting. So far, only North Andover, Massachusetts-based Watts Water Technologies has received a WAVE verification. The Water Council is working with two other companies, Sloan and BlueTriton Brands, to get them verified as well. The WAVE program isn’t the only new addition to The Water Council’s slate of initiatives. The organization is now working with the U.S. Army Reserve to strengthen global water security. The Water Council is helping the Army find experts in water and wastewater issues to fulfill roles as public water and sanitation civil affairs officers. These specialists then make sure soldiers have a fundamental knowledge of water and water-related systems. “It positions The Water Council as the go-to entity, which is great for us to be able to reinforce our position in the United States, but it also provides an opportunity for our members and their staff to join (the Army Reserve),” Amhaus said. While The Water Council has introduced these new programs with a more corporate focus, technology and innovation are still key components of what the organization does. The Water Council’s recently revamped accelerator program – BREW 2.0 -- now has a global reach after shifting to a virtual format and is focused on targeting startups that are further along in their growth journey as opposed to those that may need more fundamental help. “The quality and caliber or the applicants has significantly increased,” Amhaus said. Building a regional innovation engine Perhaps one of The Water Council’s most ambitious projects is still in very early stages. The organization has applied to take part in a National Science Foundation program focused on creating regional innovation engines. The Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition, Marquette University and the Wisconsin Technology Council are also involved in this endeavor. Called the NSF Engines program, the goal of the initiative is to uniquely harnesses the nation’s science and technology research and development enterprise and regional-level resources. The approved regional innovation engines will help build resiliency around manufacturing and utilities. The program seeks to address climate issues and how manufacturers and utilities can deal with water and energy related issues in all the aspects of their operations. The Water Council is working on rounding out their additional partners to submit a full proposal this September. The application is a two-tiered process. Organizations that have their initial proposals approved will receive $1 million over two years. A total of 50 regions will be selected. The second tier involves five regions receiving $160 million over 10 years. “What we have are great programs that we want to be able to unify in a better way,” Amhaus said. “The intent of this first tier of funding is to take the assets that we have here and really develop a cohesive plan on how do we take this, build upon it and strengthen it. We’re looking 15, 20 years out… what do we need to achieve to meet this challenge for manufacturers and utilities dealing with climate issues.” In addition to Milwaukee, the Fox Valley and Madison areas would be a part of this proposal. Looking ahead Moving forward, The Water Council will continue to focus on innovation and advising companies on water stewardship. Amhaus believes innovation provides the solutions to the different water-related issues companies might be looking to address. Both pieces fit together like parts of a puzzle. “If we can connect those two, then we’ll be very successful,” Amhaus said. The Water Council continues to have its eye on new technologies that can improve quality of life, which is something the public might not always be aware of. One South Korean Company, called Tomorrow Water, had its technology piloted locally after being introduced to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District by The Water Council. Tomorrow Water’s technology processes wastewater in just six minutes and the pilot at MMSD’s South Shore facility showed positive results. This could help reduce sewer overflows in the Milwaukee area. “Instead of having ponds that are treating water, you can cover them up and put parks over it. It becomes multi-functional. Nobody is going to know this is occurring, but where they’re going to see it is if it actually impacts them,” Amhaus said. “That’s the exciting stuff.”
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