Thursday signaled two water-related gatherings in Milwaukee. One was strictly business, the other oozed community.
Marquette University hosted the gathering of The Water Council and Midwest Energy Research Consortium or M-WERC.
In September 2015 the two groups began a conversation about the “energy-water nexus”. It’s a conversation with a goal – a “roadmap” of research and business opportunities created by the relationship of water and energy.
John Bobrowich with M-WERC says an interdependency exists. He says statistics help tell the story.
“For instance. if you use 1,000 gallons of water it takes 11.5 kilowatt hours of electricity to source that water, deliver and clean that water…..Most people don’t understand when they turn on the water tap they’re turning on a power plant somewhere,” Bobrowich says.
He says Milwaukee is in a position to be a leader in creating more efficient systems.
“It’s a natural with the number of energy power and control companies and water companies. We have two strong clusters with M-WERC and the water Council, with hundreds of members that are in this industry and to me that’s critical mass. Everyone is interested in growing their markets. And when you look at a new market opportunity with potentially a half billion dollars of annual sales by 2025, that has to excite people,” Bobrowich says.
But, he doesn’t think Milwaukee can become a leader alone. “It takes a region not just a city,” Bobrowich.
He thinks Milwaukee should look to Chicago and Minneapolis as potential partners.
“First of all because they are contiguous to us which is really nice. Secondly because both of those cities are also great proponents of energy efficiency, the way we are here. And the Midwest Governors Conference seems to be behind energy efficiency. We look at the channels to market that already exist as a natural way to evolve this industry,” Bobrowich says.
He believes it is critical to seize the opportunity.
The U.S. Department of Energy's proposed 2017 budget includes the development of energy-water nexus and creation of a national hub.
Bobrowich says competition for those dollars will be intense.
“People know real time what’s going on everywhere in the world. So as a result, technology and innovation is happening much faster. So we have to be faster, much more nibble to stay ahead of the curve. We used to have years, now we have months,” Bobrowich.
The final roadmap will be issued before Labor Day.
Two miles east of the energy water nexus discussion, 300 hundred people ate, talked and enjoyed live music at the Milwaukee Water Commons confluence gathering.
The groups inception started with the idea of getting the entire community involved in Milwaukee’s freshwater future.
In early 2014 24 people congregated in a church basement off Fond du Lac Avenue to talk about it.
Since then, by partnering with churches and neighborhood groups, 1300 Milwaukee residents have participated.
Amber Davis got involved early, through her church All Peoples.
“I didn’t know what it was. My godmother actually brought me into it. She said ‘this is really up your alley; it’s cool – you should be in it’ because I like to do a lot of crafty stuff. I more of an artist and a painter,” Davis says.
Milwaukee Water Commons folds arts and culture into its programs.
Artist in residence Melanie leads the charge. For Thursday’s event she constructed a 9 ½ foot faucet – of recycled materials - with “water” cascading from it.
The group uses art to open up conversations about experiencing the water and learning about the watershed.
Jesse Blom is a member of the group’s advisory team.
“What this organization does is create an opportunity for anybody to engage with the process of imagining our city as a water city. It’s happening at the highest levels of government, at the highest level of business. This organization allows anybody to enter into that process, which is really special,” Blom says.
In January Brenda Coley joined Milwaukee Water Commons small staff as community outreach coordinator last January.
She says over that time she’s learned more than she’d ever known about the watershed.
“I know the water is important but I didn’t know how important it was. For instance, the Milwaukee River was a pathway to freedom for African American slaves. To know that connection, that people had babies next to that river and it was a path to freedom. It think it’s something that really inspires us to take care of that water,” Coley.
Milwaukee native Sandra Jones says she was struck by the diversity in the crowd that gathered Thursday evening.
“I think it’s really great. I’ve been active in the community for a long time and you come to these things and very often I’m one of a couple of people of color. There are a lot of people of color involved in this and that is so refreshing to see the mixture of people who are becoming aware and involved around this issue,” Jones says.
She says it is critical every Milwaukeean has access to water, not simply drinking water.
“When I was growing up in the inner city of Milwaukee, there were no swimming pools. We were really restricted from going down to the lake, certainly after a certain time of the day. So we were disconnected as a community from water sources in terms of enjoyment,” Jones says.
Milwaukee Water Commons is setting a Water City Agenda which it wants more and more people to participate.
Harvey Singleton is especially interesting in the swimming component.
He and six fellow members of Urban Underground, a youth leadership organization, served at ambassadors in Thursday’s event.
“The main idea is that every child should learn to swim at a young age because that prevents things like drownings. It’s just a safety precaution because we have so much water around us. People take their families to the beaches and we want to know that your kids is safe because they know how to swim,” Singleton adds, “I love to swim.” So he would like other kids to have the chance to love the activity too.
Urban Underground director Sharlen Moore says Urban Underground members have become deeply involved in the water commons movement.
“The young people created projects and we’ve doing some stuff around gardening. It’s just been a really amazing experience,” Moore says.