Technology has the power to make life more convenient and connected. It can also help us access, treat, and deliver water more efficiently than ever before. Entrepreneurs, researchers, and businesses can invest their time and creativity in developing and scaling innovative solutions to our twenty-first century water challenges. As water supplies become scarcer, on-site water reuse is becoming a bigger option to capture and re-use rainwater where it falls. This can reduce the energy-intensity required to treat and move drinking water across long distances.
To build on the historical and economic significance of being located on the largest supply of freshwater in the world, Milwaukee is currently leveraging its natural water resource assets with the latest research and technology to re-align the local economy around water and become a Water Centric City on America’s Fresh Coast.
Reed Street Yards
As water supplies become scarcer, on-site water reuse is becoming a bigger focus for water technology. Water reuse reduces the energy intensity required to treat and move drinking water long distances. The City of Milwaukee is partnering with the owner of Reed Street Yards to redevelop the 17-acre property into a research and technology park focused on Milwaukee's growing water industry. Once complete, the Reed Street Yards will be a showcase of water technologies and practices, including a purple pipe for development-wide water recycling and bioswales, and permeable paving to capture stormwater runoff.
Urban Ecology Center
Non-profit organizations have also taken strides in advancing water reuse systems. Located in Milwaukee’s Riverside Park, the Urban Ecology Center is a outstanding example of water reuse. Rainwater is collected in three 350-gallon stainless steel water cisterns and used to to flush toilets. This unique restroom system saves thousands of gallons of clean water every year by using only rainwater.
Onsite Water Reuse
Capturing and reusing water on a small scale can have a large effect. Hoping to encourage many Milwaukee residents to capture and reuse water, Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office partnered with the University of Milwaukee - School of Freshwater Sciences and ReFlo - Sustainable Water Solutions to develop residential and school water reuse guides. The guides walk readers through the steps of safely harvesting, storing, and using rainwater. They also identify local, city and state codes and ordinances related to residential rainwater harvesting.
Entrepreneurs, researchers, and businesses in Milwaukee have developed innovative pilot programs and technologies such as the BaseTern, Storm GUARDen, and Rainshed. BaseTern is a pilot program using the basement of an abandoned home that has been slated for demolition for underground stormwater management. By using this existing basement cavity, the City saves on demolition costs of the old structure and the construction of the new one. The structure is underground and covered with turf to fit safely within the neighborhood. The preliminary prototypes can hold as much water as 600 hundred rain barrels!
RainShed, designed by University of Wisconsin School of Architecture & Urban Planning students, is a small building that harvests rainwater for on-site water reuse. This pilot program designed RainSheds to be built for under $1,000 and to hold up to 550 gallons. UW-Extension Community Gardens & Micro-Farms beta-tested the design, and the first RainShed now stands at the Rawson Gardens. Under the City of Milwaukee’s HOME GR/OWN's 2015 Partners for Places initiative, grants have funded Milwaukee County UW-Extension to build a modified version at Kohl Farms, and Groundwork Milwaukee is building a third RainShed at the Spector Orchard.
Milwaukee based stormwater engineering firm, Stormwater Solutions Engineering, created the StormGUARDenTM. This innovative downspout disconnect device filters and stores 6.5 rain barrels of stormwater before slowly draining 10 feet away from the building’s foundation. The StormGUARDenTM supports plant life by providing a long-term source of water during dry weather, and its special soil media and filter is designed to remove pollutants before draining.
Global Water Center
Milwaukee’s realignment of the local economy around water would not be possible without the creation of Milwaukee’s Water Technology District. The district houses the Global Water Center, a single building that enables collaboration and partnership between water technology businesses, water technology research, and The Water Council, an economic development cluster focused on water technologies.
The collaboration within the Global Water Center has led to innovative programs such as the Water Council’s BREW Accelerator (Business-Research-Entrepreneurship in Wisconsin) which assists water technology entrepreneurs in developing their companies and expanding their commercialization opportunities by pairing the water-focused entrepreneurs with credible resources. It also provides new district-scale water solutions by utilizing organizations such as the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), which leads others in their responsible use of freshwater.
Also housed within the Global Water Center is the Water Technology Accelerator (WaTA). The WaTA is a collaboration between the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, UWM College of Engineering and Applied Science, and UW-Whitewater. The Water Council provides world-class labs and equipment for UW researchers and their collaborators to move innovative science to commercial application, and develop technologies suitable for pre-production prototype formulation and evaluation.
School of Freshwater Sciences
The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences is the only graduate program of its kind in the country which is dedicated to the study of freshwater resources. The University’s research is quickly developing water technologies, making life in Milwaukee more convenient, connected, and safe. For example, students developed a buoy that transmits minute-by-minute information about water quality conditions. This technology is shortening the time to issue water-quality warnings. Normally, health officials receive information about poor water quality condition much later, leading to beach closings the day after a threat develops.
Work to be Done
As Milwaukee seeks to be a global leader in water technology, it needs to ensure that the technologies and practices developed are put to use in Milwaukee. To accomplish this, Milwaukee needs to continue to encourage the growth and development of water technology research and businesses, continuously communicate new water technologies and practices, encourage widespread adoption of water-centric technology, and provide education, funding, and incentives to Milwaukee’s homeowners and businesses for water-centric technologies.