What Does It Mean For Milwaukee To Be A 'Water Hub?'

May 9, 2019

WUWM's Project Milwaukee series Great Lakes, Troubled Waters is examining the topic of clean water, or the lack thereof, in southeastern Wisconsin — particularly in a place like Milwaukee that considers itself to be a "water hub."

Water hubs are places where industry, research, and academia converge in their efforts to create sustainable efforts or create new technology utilizing one of our most precious resources.

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Dean Amhaus is president and CEO of The Water Council, a nonprofit organization that brings together these disparate entities.

"We're not going out there and cleaning up the rivers and the lakes. But hopefully our technology can help the Milwaukee Water Commons or the Riverkeeper to be able to do a better job and a bigger impact," he explains.

Amhaus says that people are looking to Milwaukee for solutions that local companies and universities are developing.

"[Businesses] come here because we have this ecosystem that they can literally plug into." - Dean Amhaus, The Water Council

"They're looking for business-to-business relationships or they come here because we have this ecosystem that they can literally plug into," notes Amhaus. "We like to say that a company could come in on Monday morning at 9, and by 11 they could be plugged into an ecosystem they couldn't get anywhere else. That's one of the things that defines Milwaukee and separates us out across the entire world."

While The Water Council is driven by the private sector, its works cannot be accomplished without partnerships with the government.

"We live in an environment and a society where you have to have government relations and engagement. And that's whether it's from the governor's office to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources or the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation," says Amhaus.

Brenda Coley is the co-executive director of the Milwaukee Water Commons, which takes a community and environmental approach to water issues. She says the most important thing about being a city built on water is simply getting people to water.

"Any time you put someone in front of water, they get it. So, the issue is putting them there. That's the challenge," says Coley. "And with a highly segregated city, there are issues and unwritten boundaries around water. So, we work to provide a pathway for people to get back to water."

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Coley sees water as way to mend the wounds segregation has caused, and continues to cause, here in Milwaukee.

"As we introduce more and more people to the gift of water — to the fact that this is their water as well as everyone else's — I think that that will, in some way, heal us around these issues of segregation," she says.

Part of that healing involves access to water, for drinking and for much more. "We're talking about a broader sense of access, an all-around access," Coley explains. "We try to bring the neighborhood to the water. We're working to make these spaces more inclusive and to make everyone feel they belong there."