A statewide research initiative is underway, which involves all of the UW System’s four-year campuses. It’s called The Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin.
The hope is that this initiative will make Wisconsin and UW schools global leaders in freshwater science, technology and entrepreneurship. The group hopes to enroll hundreds of students, raise research dollars and create jobs.
UW-Milwaukee is taking the lead on this collaboration. Its position near Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee river basin makes it the ideal locale to head up this project.
Marissa Jablonski was recently named the executive director of the Freshwater Collaborative. She brings diverse experience, from water distribution and sanitation projects in Guatemala to textile wastewater treatment in India.
"We have 13 campuses with professors and staff who have extreme expertise in great lakes, great rivers, creeks and streams, wetlands, inland lakes, the Driftless, and we want everyone on Earth to realize this expertise is real," she says.
From experience, she says water management solutions have to be collaborative and community-based. The point of the Freshwater Collaborative will not be to simply fix problems in waterways but to help give communities the skills and resources to fix current and future issues.
For students, this will be an opportunity to learn all across Wisconsin, no matter which university is their home.
"If a student wants to [study] river resources, they might go to UW-Lacrosse. But then if they find interest in [a] lake, great lake, then they would spend one semester at UW-Milwaukee," says Jablonski. "That exchange, we're hoping, is mandatory for the students who enter into the collaborative."
Equity will also be at the heart of the collaboration.
"If we run out of fresh drinking water, we all run out of fresh drinking water. The only difference is that some communities can pay money for those resources to last slightly longer," she says.
The first step Jablonski says she'll take is bringing together business leaders, government leaders, professors, and students to talk about how the collaborative can work to meet each group's needs.
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