Great Lakes Region Focuses on Fresh Water Problems and Solutions
By David H. Martin
In a year when much national attention has focused on western states’ water shortages and drought, the Great Lakes region has water problems of its own. At the same time, the world’s largest fresh water system has become a center for incubating new solutions to fresh water threats from invasive species to nutrient pollution. Milwaukee’s World Water Center, near Lake Michigan, is now in its second year as the fruit of a unique collaboration of Wisconsin academic, government and private business elements called The Water Council. (WC&P featured the launch of the Center in October, 2013.) Why Wisconsin? The state boasts nearly 300 water companies, of which 150 are in the Milwaukee area. US EPA has recognized this geographic cluster of water companies and the region is recognized as a world hub for water research, education and economic development.
In a recent interview, Dean Amhaus, President and CEO of The Water Council (www.thewatercouncil.com), brought us up to date on progress at the Water Center, located in a 98,000-squarefoot, seven-story, brick-and-timber renovated structure. “At the Water Center, the Water Council has created the world’s first water technology accelerator—driving engagement between seasoned water professionals, researchers and entrepreneurs. We now have some 40 companies occupying the building, which will be fully occupied by the end of this year. Next April, we will break ground for a second building in the adjacent Reed Street Yard.”
Industrial water giant, Rexnord, recently moved its corporate headquarters into the World Water Center, said Amhaus. Marquette University will also be taking space in the LEED-certified building. Six new start-up companies will be in residence at the center in 2015 as part of the unique business incubator section that provides a first home for these water-related enterprises. In addition to office and laboratory space in the Center, JPMorgan Chase can now provide these small firms access to seed money and valuable contacts to help them grow. The Water Council’s partnership with the megabank includes a $225,000 (USD) grant from the bank’s Small Business Forward initiative, a national five-year, $30 million grant program intended to boost small business support networks that help grow enterprises in specific industries, including water. Milwaukee was selected as the prime location for water innovation.
Are there investment companies interested in water? Amhaus says: “The Water Council hopes to identify and help educate these potential investors about opportunities in the water sector. Toward that end, we are planning an event for investment companies from across the US to visit Milwaukee. We also are developing a program that will help introduce the small companies and their products to countries around the world.”
WC&P visits the World Water Center
In September, Isaiah Perez, Communications and Development Associate at the World Water Council, guided me through the World Water Center’s headquarters building and defined the roles of each floor. “The Water Council,” said Perez, “is partnering with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), our state’s economic development agency. The World Water Center building is focused on research and commercial development of water technologies and products.”
The first floor features the flow lab, sponsored by Badger Meter. There, UMW students can perform water tests. On other floors, the building has teleconferencing capabilities and an auditorium. Start-up companies are located on the second floor. Rexnord’s new corporate headquarters office is on the third floor. The Water Council offices are on the fifth floor. The entire seventh floor of the World Water Center is the research and development realm of The University of Wisconsin’s School of Freshwater Sciences. There, the building’s resident entrepreneurs will have access to the school’s laboratories and professors conducting research projects.
UMW School of Freshwater Sciences is the only university in the US with a graduate-level degree in freshwater science. The school recently opened its own new Freshwater Sciences building on their nearby campus. Students and graduates of the UMW program are encouraged to apply for research internships and positions with companies occupying the Water Center. The Reed Street Yards is a water technology business park right across the street from the center. Five to seven companies will be moving into a new building scheduled for completion in the spring of 2015, according to Amhaus.
The center’s small business incubator is called the BREW, borrowing its name from Milwaukee’s proud brewing industry heritage. Explained Perez, “The BREW stands for Business, Research and Entrepreneurship in Wisconsin. It is a unique business accelerator program for start-up water companies here in the building. An intensive six-month start-up boot camp, classes began in early September. Typically, individuals in the program have science and engineering experience, but lack the business skills to build a successful company from the ground up. Each of them receives a $50,000 grant from the WEDC, along with subsidized space on the second floor to develop fledgling businesses.”
Batch II BREW companies introduced at WEFTEC
Six new entrepreneur start-up companies were formally welcomed to inhabit the Water Center at a reception held during WEFTEC in New Orleans, LA in October. Cadens LLC (http:// cadensllc.com) is a start-up and pioneer in the field of micro-tosmall hydropower for turbine design and production. Neverest™ (neverest.com) produces Hydro-Lite, a water sterilization device requiring no batteries, filters or chemicals. Pellucid Water develops and markets applications of dense-to-medium plasma for water decontamination. pHinding Solutions (http://phindingsolutions.wordpress.com) is a biotechnology company that creates new, innovative technologies by working directly with researchers to assess their individual needs. Wellntel (www. wellntel.com) develops simple, smart technologies to help people learn about and sustainably manage their groundwater. WatrHub (http://watrhub.com) is a data-mining and analytics company that matches water technologies with the needs of water and wastewater systems.
The United Nations has identified nutrient pollution as one of the biggest environmental problems of the 21st century. It is a problem that was brought home to the Great Lakes region last summer when a massive blue algae bloom in western Lake Erie contaminated drinking water in the city of Toledo, OH. The crisis was caused by an overabundance of nutrients from fertilizer runoff and wastewater treatment.
While the immediate problem in Toledo has subsided, Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) is poised to tackle the problem of nutrient pollution at its Stickney, IL wastewater treatment plant. By late 2015, MRWD will initiate chemical-free recycling of phosphorous from the waste stream, making it the largest nutrient recovery facility in the world. Ostara is partnering with Black and Veatch to design and build the Stickney facility at the MWRD plant, designed to treat up to 1.44 billion gallons (5.4 billion liters) of wastewater each day. The nutrient recovery process captures phosphorous in the sidestream, converting an environmental problem into a solution by producing a high-value, slow-release fertilizer.
Beyond the environmental benefit that extends all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, the shared revenues that are expected to be generated from the 10,000-15,000 tons of Crystal Green fertilizer produced annually—as well as savings from reduced chemical treatment—will help recover the capital cost of building the nutrient recovery facility. What this amounts to is an exciting new win-win solution to water pollution.
Last July, a group of water management leaders from major utilities and corporations met on the shore of Lake Michigan to share perspectives and strategies for progressive, sustainable water management A distinguished panel of public and private sector leaders met to discuss Global Lessons from Great Water Cities. Water leaders in Great Lakes cities are engaged in developing and applying solutions for water quality problems in their region and beyond.
About the author
David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org