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UWM Instructor Hopes Students Can Help Solve Milwaukee Lead Water Pipes Challenge


Milwaukee is grappling with the cost and time needed to replace approximately 70,000 lead service lines scattered around the city.

Lead is a heavy metal neurotoxin that causes severe health problems in those exposed to it, especially children.

William Kort decided to try to contribute to the solution.

Kort is an adjunct instructor with the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences and put together a class called Public Water Provision in Milwaukee – Lead and Other Issues.

“What first spurred my interest was the student water council chapter at UW-Milwaukee….and then I attended a conference at Marquette in the fall,” Kort says.

It was at that conference that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett suggested families living in homes built before 1952 should install a filter.

“And I started to talk to the Center for Water Policy and they asked me to put together a course on this topic,” Kort says.

He describes the approach as applied policy research.

“We’re going to bring academic resources to bear on real world problems so this is great opportunity for students to get experience in both aspects of the problem and really have a chance to influence real world policy makers,” Kort says.

Kort says students will also explore the decentralization of the public water supply.

“I think it’s going to become more common in the future for us to be supplying not quite potable water and we are going to be finishing that water at the point of use for whatever purpose we need it for,” he continues, “We don’t need potable water to water the plants or water the lawn for example, and it’s very expensive for us to treat all of our water to that highest drinking water standard.”

Kort thinks Milwaukee could become a water policy model, and hopes students can help push toward that goal.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.