Milwaukee and the world’s first Water Stewardship District

By Dylan Waldhuetter, Program Manager – AWS North America

In order to achieve meaningful improvements of freshwater resources at a catchment scale, all major water users and key stakeholders must align around accomplishing the outcomes of good water stewardship (which include, among other things, achieving good water quality and sustainable water balance in the catchment). However, it is often true that small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), don’t have the internal capacity or resources to implement good water stewardship systems or practices or the extra time to participate in collaborative catchment-scale projects.

Recognizing the need for support, the Fund for Lake Michigan (FFLM), a funding organization focused on the health of Lake Michigan and its communities, provided resources for AWS Standard certification at key sites in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These sites are in the same catchment (in AWS terms), or watershed as used in North America. As a result, the Milwaukee Nearshore Lake Michigan Catchment (which for AWS purposes includes portions of the lower Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers, the inner and outer harbors and nearshore area of Lake Michigan) now have four AWS Certified sites, with three others actively implementing. This catchment has the most AWS certified and diverse set of sites of any region on the planet.











Catchment collaboration begins with multi-stakeholder support

The journey began in 2017. With grant support from the FFLM, AWS North America convened a collaborative group to work with two sites implementing the AWS Standard in the Milwaukee Nearshore Catchment. These sites, Molson Coors Brewery (the largest water user in the city) and the Global Water Center (a commercial office building) achieved certification in March of 2018. Both were “firsts” – the first brewery to be certified globally and the first office building to gain certification). Due to the success of the initial grant, the FFLM agreed to additional funding to support the certification of two more sites in the same catchment. With an eye toward diversifying the users of the AWS Standard and making AWS Certification feasible for smaller sites, the second round of funding and efforts focused on SMEs. Additionally, this round of funding also sought to recognize a portion of the Milwaukee Nearshore Catchment as a “water stewardship district” in partnership with efforts already underway by a local nonprofit focused on restoring the economy and environment of the inner harbor – Harbor District, Inc. The best practices achieved during this grant project would be communicated to the global AWS audience and key stakeholders who would wish to replicate the success in other impaired catchments globally.

This work culminated in the recent AWS Certifications for Elementis, a chemical manufacturer, and Engel Tool & Forge, a steel parts manufacturer. These are the first two SMEs to be certified globally. While the water-related impacts from smaller sites are often less recognizable, the two SMEs demonstrated the important role that all sites have in achieving the outcomes of good water stewardship at scale.

While water use at these two sites wasn’t as significant as some of the larger users in the catchment, both accounted for a large amount of impervious surface area, which is a root cause of many of the water quality challenges in the catchment. This presented opportunities for each site to evaluate the reduction of its impervious surface area through rooftop rainwater collection and green infrastructure implementation. This is but one example of the many successful outcomes resulting from both firm’s AWS implementation and certification.

Scaling the success of a “Water Stewardship District” to other urban areas

Recognizing the high concentration of AWS Certified sites in one catchment and the progress of three additional implementing sites, AWS North America and our partners are working to leverage the success to inform district-scale guidance for water stewardship actions globally. The goal is to align AWS Principles with district-wide water stewardship guidelines, which will support the adoption of the AWS Standard on a much larger scale in a relatively dense urban area with a significant manufacturing presence and impact on local waterways. The high concentration of projected certified sites (6 to 7), combined with water stewardship-specific best practices at a district-level, create the world’s first “Water Stewardship District”.

To learn more about Milwaukee’s Water Stewardship District from the FFLM and supporting stakeholder, The Harbor District, check out the latest “Water Sessions” podcast here.


This post was tagged under: AWS, FFLM, Harbor District