Freshwater only accounts for 2% of the world’s water, and the Great Lakes contain over 20% of the global supply, and 84% of North America's surface fresh water.1 Milwaukee’s unique geographical location has inspired its leaders to celebrate and protect this priceless natural resource.
The City of Milwaukee is establishing itself as a Water Centric City through its water leadership. Working with many diverse partners, the City has prioritized projects to enhance all aspects of water in the City of Milwaukee and surrounding region.
Mayor Tom Barrett
In 2013, Mayor Barrett released ReFresh Milwaukee, a strategic plan and vision for a more sustainable community of which water is a central component. Born out of a set of water-related objectives, the 2014 Sustainable Municipal Water Management (SMWM) Public Evaluation Report was created. The report uses principles to develop indicators for SMWM milestones and assess progress towards each. Additionally, Mayor Barrett is a leading member of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a binational coalition of over 110 U.S. and Canadian mayors who support the Compact and work to manage and protect the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Mayor Barrett represents Milwaukee as a Global Compact City and an Innovating City in the UN Compact Cities Programme, a UN program that seeks to boost innovations to solve world problems. Mayor Barrett has also endorsed the International Water Association's Water Wise Cities principles, a framework that helps ensure that everyone has access to safe water and sanitation.
Protecting public health and the drinking water supply for millions of people takes the expertise of hundreds of specially skilled and dedicated employees. Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) Executive Director Kevin Shafer has been instrumental in providing regional leadership in implementing green infrastructure in MMSD facilities and on private property. Mr. Shafer was awarded the 2012 U.S. Water Prize for MMSD’s cutting-edge Watershed-Based Permitting and watershed-based approaches toward water sustainability. MMSD is highly regarded nationally as a leader in wastewater treatment, flood management, green infrastructure and much more. The District is most proud of its record for capturing and cleaning wastewater at 98.4% (since 1994) from 28 communities in a 411 square mile area. Many metropolitan areas struggle to capture and clean the national goal of 85% of all the rain and wastewater that enters their sewer systems.2
Jenny Kehl examines the relationship between water security and economic development. Kehl is the Global Water Security Scholar for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Endowed Professor at School of Freshwater Sciences. Kehl connects science and social science to analyze how water scarcity affects food production, energy consumption, political stability, and economic growth in local and global water systems. Dr. Kehl has worked in Africa, Asia, the American Southwest, and the Great Lakes on water security, development, and equity issues, with a focus on environmental stressors and dispute resolution. Kehl addresses water issues that are politically charged and economically driven. She articulates the need for strategic thinking, multidisciplinary education, and innovative policies to promote political and economic stability, environmental sustainability, and responsible stewardship of water resources.
Milwaukee’s Water Leadership continues through Dean Amhaus, president and chief executive officer of The Water Council. The Water Council is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, and has received international awards for its innovative work in water technology. The Water Council brings together the region's water technology companies and universities, including more than 150 water-related companies and more than 100 water-related researchers. Located at the Global Water Center within Milwaukee’s Water Technology District, the Water Council has established Milwaukee as a World Water Hub.
Work to be Done
To continue Milwaukee’s Water Leadership, the City of Milwaukee should strive to consistently work, communicate, and collaborate across all professions. Tools such as Milwaukee Community Map help share community, public, and private entities’ water stories. This sharing across all professions will become more critical in time as water issues continue to become more complex.
1. EPA (2017) www.epa.gov/greatlakes/great-lakes-facts-and-figures
2. MMSD (2017). www.mmsd.com/what-we-do