Milwaukee, Wis., Switches From Beer to Water

Civic leaders hope to make Milwaukee the Silicon Valley of water technology.

by / August 15, 2012
The Global Water Center, slated to open in 2013. Photo: The Milwaukee Water Council. The Water Council

Milwaukee, Wis., — formerly known as the beer capital of the world — has switched to water. Officials on Monday, Aug. 13, announced the launch of the Global Water Center, a first stage of what could eventually become a water quality research park.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – who in July declared a state drought emergency – spoke at the ground-breaking, saying "Milwaukee is the water hub of the world. When you think of clean water, when you think of fresh water technologies, Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the place you need to think about."

But is research really needed on America’s water supply? After all, the earth is covered with the stuff.

Water may become even more important than beer as the planet heats up, as civilization dumps more pollutants into the water supply, and America’s city water infrastructure leaks and deteriorates. Consider some recent news about drinking water: Iron water pipes are corroding and leaking lots of the tasteless liquid; pharmaceuticals — discarded or “excreted” — are a growing problem in tap water since water treatment plants can’t deal effectively with them; hexavalent chromium – the chemical villain in the movie Erin Brockovich – is again in the news as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Public Health for failing to protect state residents from the chemical.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says health-conscious Americans spend billions on bottled water, 40 percent of which is just repackaged tap water; and a new bonanza of natural gas — extracted in the United States by “fracking” — could possibly contaminate groundwater with chemicals. In addition, predictable patterns of rainfall appear to be breaking down, with droughts in the West and flooding elsewhere.

There’s more. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, water leaked from homes by running toilets, dripping faucets, etc., could exceed more than 1 trillion gallons per year — equivalent to the annual water use of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami combined. And in the final absurdity, some American cities still use wooden water pipes.

Milwaukee’s Global Water Center likely will address at least some of these technical challenges. The Milwaukee Water Council will renovate a seven-story warehouse to make the center, the first step of what officials hope will someday become a technology park. Officials said they are aiming to create nothing less than a Silicon Valley for water technology and water-related research. The city is said to be home to more than 150 businesses in the water technology industry.

The 98,000 square-foot Global Water Center, slated to open in 2013, is envisioned to be a business incubator and shared research space for government, private industry and education. The warehouse will be transformed to include a lecture hall, a water flow laboratory and an exhibition hall for prototype technologies.

The building’s first tenants are a mix of public and private entities: A.O. Smith, Badger Meter, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Grundfos Pumps, Hanging Gardens, the International Water Association, the Water Council, Pave Drain, Sloan Valve, University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Veolia Water North America, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and Xela Innovations.

“The new water research and business accelerator building is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States and one of only a handful in the world,” the Milwaukee Water Council said.

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