A delegation including representatives from The Water Council, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is lending its water technology expertise in China this week as the country works toward an aggressive goal of capturing stormwater runoff in 30 of its largest cities.
The Water Council and WEDC are hosting conferences in Nanjing and Beijing this week, touting Wisconsin’s water technology companies’ ability to help the country address its water challenges.
China launched a “sponge cities” initiative in 2015 to improve infrastructure in 30 cities for better water retention and drainage, as well as natural purification and infiltration. The goal is for the cities to capture 75 percent of stormwater runoff by 2030 and 80 percent of runoff by 2030. China has already invested $12.5 billion to get the initiative off the ground, according to Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council.
This week, the Wisconsin delegation is spreading the message that its water technology companies can help China in those efforts.
The two conferences are drawing about 150 to 200 people, including decision-makers in the Chinese government and water technology company representatives, said Katy Sinnott, vice president of international business development for the WEDC. Representatives from Rockwell Automation, Rexnord, A.O. Smith, InSinkErator and GRAEF are also participating in the the conferences.
While Wisconsin’s larger corporations have an opportunity to expand their presence in China, Amhaus touted the possibilities for Wisconsin’s startup companies in that market. Amhaus pointed to PaveDrain, a Milwaukee-based startup that makes permeable paving surfaces, as an example. PaveDrain’s founder and president Doug Buch is speaking at both conferences this week.
“We want to expand the market for those that are here but open it up for those small ones, because they’re the ones that have some great innovations and approaches,” Amhaus said.
“We often think, from an export standpoint on businesses, (of) exporting products,” he added. “But I think we have an opportunity to export vision, services and leadership. That’s what you’re hearing from these cities throughout China.”
Headlining the conferences is Kevin Shafer, executive director of the MMSD, who is speaking about how to capture rainwater to reduce runoff and return it to the ground sustainably.
China’s major urban centers experience torrential rain storms over a few months each year, which cause extensive damage and significant runoff, followed by extended drought periods. The issue is exacerbated by the cities’ large swaths of concrete and other impermeable surfaces.
“When you boil it down and look at it, it’s the same issues we were facing and still are facing in Milwaukee that they’re facing now,” Shafer said.
While the Chinese representatives can learn from MMSD, and vice versa, there are also notable differences between the size of Milwaukee and its Chinese counterparts. There are about 21 million people living in Beijing, compared to 1.1 million in the Milwaukee area. Beijing covers about 16,500 square-kilometers. Milwaukee is about 1,100 square kilometers.
In previous conversations, Amhaus said, Chinese representatives have shown interest in Milwaukee’s deep tunnel system, a wastewater storage system which the MMSD says has prevented 111 billion gallons of pollution from getting into Lake Michigan.
A delegation of representatives from the Beijing Water Authority will visit Milwaukee on Dec. 7 to tour the Global Water Center and MMSD’s Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility, among other sites. The water authority will sign a sister utilities agreement with MMSD during the visit.
The collaboration with China continues The Water Council’s growth as an international organization. Earlier this month, The Water Council signed two agreements aimed at increasing collaboration and developing new water technology partnerships with Israel. Under one of the agreements, The Water Council and the Israel Innovation Authority agreed to develop a research partnership in which Israeli and Wisconsin water technology companies will collaborate on developing new applications for MMSD and other Wisconsin water utilities.