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In the heart of Milwaukee, where the vast expanse of Lake Michigan meets the city’s vibrant streets, a transformation in water technology and stewardship is underway. This isn’t just a story of a city that grew from the rich waters of the Great Lakes; it’s a narrative of revolution, where water becomes the source of innovation and economic growth. The Water Council, standing at the forefront of this change, embodies the spirit of Milwaukee’s historical connection to water and propels it into the future.

The Water Council holds an annual Demo Day for the water technology startups in its BREW 2.0 Post-Accelerator. Photo by Kevin McIntosh.

Milwaukee: A City Shaped by Water
Sitting on the border of Lake Michigan – part of the Great Lakes system that includes 20% of the world’s surface freshwater – and at the confluence of three rivers, water is inextricably woven into the city’s history.

But water is also the city’s future. Milwaukee boasts one of the largest and most mature water technology hubs in the world. Here, you’ll find a wealth of water technology companies, from major entities such as A. O. Smith Corporation, Badger Meter, and Kohler Company to startups that are changing the way we monitor, use, and treat water. Research universities are leading the way on water, including the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, the only graduate school of freshwater in the nation, and the Marquette University Water Quality Center. Additionally, Milwaukee boasts renowned drinking water and wastewater utilities known for their adoption of new technologies and green infrastructure.

Founded in 2009 by a coalition of civic and business leaders, The Water Council quickly rose to prominence as a beacon of innovation in the global water industry. It is dedicated to solving critical water challenges, driving innovation in freshwater technology, and advancing water stewardship.

From its headquarters at the Global Water Center, it has become a rallying point for over 150 members spanning the spectrum of the water sector. This includes everyone from startups bringing groundbreaking technologies to the market to established corporations driving forward the frontiers of water use and conservation.

“What started as an economic development initiative has grown into a world-renowned cluster on the leading edge of water technology and stewardship,” says Dean Amhaus, The Water Council President and CEO.

The Water Council connects, convenes, and showcases its members worldwide, providing a full range of business development services and networking opportunities and the potential to collaborate with some of the world’s most prominent water innovators.

“We’re proud to put Milwaukee on the map for something vital for every person on the planet.”

The Water Council’s annual summit addresses pressing water and sustainability issues. Photo by Kevin McIntosh.

Innovation as a Creed
At its core, The Water Council thrives on innovation. Its global innovation programming drives economic development and promotes solutions to address challenges involving water quality and quantity. Through programs like the BREW 2.0 Post-Accelerator, the Pilot Program, and the Tech Challenge, The Water Council accelerates the journey of water technologies from concept to market, ensuring that innovative solutions reach the places they’re needed most.

These programs help water startups build connections and grow capacity, facilitate in-field testing for water technologies in Wisconsin to accelerate the development of new products, and connect water innovators to corporate water leaders through topic-specific open innovation contests.

Water thought leaders from across the nation share their challenges and solutions at The Water Council’s annual summit. Photo by Kevin McIntosh.

Stewardship and Innovation: A Dual Focus
Innovation, however, is just one side of the coin. The Water Council is equally dedicated to promoting water stewardship. Through initiatives like the WAVE: Water Stewardship Verified program, it guides organizations towards sustainable water use, marrying technological innovation with actionable stewardship to mitigate water risk across industries.

In 2023, The Water Council and its partners received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a regional engine in Wisconsin focused on water and energy resiliency and sustainability for manufacturers and utilities, propelling the organization to the next step in its growth as a leader in sustainable innovation.

“We believe this engine could be a game changer for the region and critical to keeping our nation’s manufacturers and utilities thriving under changing environmental and regulatory conditions,” Dean emphasizes.

The driving force behind The Water Council’s success is the spirit of collaboration between public and private sectors and a shared commitment to finding innovative solutions to critical global water issues.

“The world can’t wait for water solutions, which is why we continue to push forward in our mission,” Dean says. “We’re proud to put Milwaukee on the map for something vital for every person on the planet.”

The Water Council promotes Milwaukee’s world water hub at WEFTEC, the largest gathering of water professionals in the world.

A Legacy of Impact
As The Water Council celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2024, its achievements are a beacon of hope and a testament to the power of collective action. From supporting over 70 startups through its accelerators to facilitating 19 pilot tests of water technology to awarding $180,000 in funding to 18 innovators from 9 countries, its contributions to the water sector are profound.

Additionally, The Water Council has partnered with 31 water technology organizations and clusters around the world, helping foster international cooperation and connecting Milwaukee and the U.S. to the global water technology ecosystem.

“We developed the world’s first enterprise-wide water stewardship verification scheme, the first water stewardship professional credentialing system, and, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the first graduate-level course in applied water stewardship practices,” shares Dean.

The Water Council has positioned Milwaukee as a leading hub for water technology and stewardship, influencing water policy and practices worldwide.

Karen Frost (second from left), vice president of innovation and economic development, visits Phuket, Thailand, as part of a partnership between water and wastewater professionals in Milwaukee and Phuket.

Looking Forward: A Vision for the Future
The future is bright for The Water Council. With its sights set on developing the water and energy resiliency engine, it continues to pave the way for innovations that will shape the water sector for generations to come.

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