Rethinking water: lessons (and ambitions) from a city with plenty

Fri, 2015-09-11 06:00 -- SCC Staff


Fresh water is a given for Milwaukee and other Great Lakes communities. While there's plenty of fresh water, Milwaukee has spent a lot of time and money to ensure that doesn't change -- and to aggressively expand its already growing water-based economy.

In the process the city has become internationally recognized for its work. Its municipal sewer system is regarded as a model for water conservation and the city has the country's first School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It has attracted scientists and researchers, businesses and other related organizations, all focused on water.

State economic development officials expect to see a diversified economy in Wisconsin's future, with Milwaukee's growing water technology sector as a big part of it, according to an article in The Buffalo News. Not bad for a city many people think of as "the city that's always made beer" -- although that long relationship between the Great Lakes and businesses such as breweries seems to have set the stage for the city's current growth in many ways.

The city's Water Council, apparently the only organization of its type in the U.S., works with all of those research organizations and companies to provide educational programs and build partnerships. To put it bluntly, Milwaukee wants to be a global water marketplace.

Serious about water
The Water Council is where you will find people like Richard A. "Rich" Meeusen, its chairman. He's a serious water guy and also CEO, chairman and president of Council Associate Member Badger Meter, which provides water meters and other equipment to utilities, municipalities and others.

He also perfectly represents the commitment to Milwaukee's future as an economic and technology center.

There have been environmental concerns that the Great Lakes would not be able to handle growth on the scale Milwaukee and state officials talk about. But Meeusen believes the right lessons have already been learned and old mistakes won't be repeated. "Pretty much everybody has gotten religion that you can't run a sustainable business running crap into the river behind your plant. Any businessman would be nuts to run that kind of risk."

Meeusen steadfastly supports the vision of Milwaukee's critical importance as a leader and focal point for all things water, particularly at a time when long-term drought conditions are expected for many of the world's major population centers.

"Either economics are going to drive people back to the Great Lakes water basin… or regulations.

"We will always have the water supply here, and now the technology for how to use it wisely. I think there's a big opportunity."

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