By Dean Amhaus, President & CEO
What a year it has been for water and The Water Council! 2023 saw a growing recognition of the importance of water stewardship and water technology. We and our members have been fortunate to chalk up some important accomplishments, but the dramatic and rapid increase in serious water issues worldwide means that we cannot rest on our laurels. It is imperative that we double down on efforts to develop new technologies, get them into the marketplace as quickly and safely as possible, and strive to get all businesses to implement tangible water stewardship programs.
Closer to home, we were, of course, thrilled to receive a Development Award from the National Science Foundation as part of its prestigious Regional Innovation Engines program. It has the potential to be a game-changer in many ways. We also grew several existing programs, our international connections and our membership. Read on to learn more.
Hopefully you’ve heard by now that in May, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded The Water Council and our partners $1 million to develop a regional Engine focused on water and energy resiliency and sustainability for manufacturers and utilities.
Wisconsin already boasts many of the necessary resources for the Engine, including renowned research universities, leading energy and water technology companies, and a strong manufacturing sector. The Engine will align these resources while ensuring the area offers a strong innovation pipeline and diverse, trained workforce to identify needs and quickly move solutions from the laboratory to the factory floor.
We’ve spent the six months since receiving the award holding informational sessions and connecting with potential partners and supporters. With a strong leadership team in place, in 2024 we will “roll up our sleeves” in building the Engine and tackling a wide range of initiatives that encompass use-inspired research, workforce, entrepreneurs, investor and economic development, and diversity and inclusion. This is all leading to the creation of a proposal for an NSF Launch Award that would provide up to $160 million over 10 years.
We recently issued a request for proposals for a diversity, equity, inclusion and access consultant to assist with Engine development. Sign up for our Engine mailing list to stay up to date on other Engine activities.
This year, we celebrated a return to in-person programming for our BREW 2.0 Post-Accelerator. This hybrid program includes virtual training and a week of in-person training in Milwaukee, culminating in a Demo Day when participants pitch their innovations to a live and virtual worldwide audience. In 2023 we added a curated investor event in partnership with NVNG Investment Advisors and hosted by Baird, which we plan to repeat in 2024.
We are accepting applications for the 2024 cohort through Jan. 7. The program targets water tech companies ready to enter the market or with early sales. We are grateful to our sponsors, Beckhoff Automation, Xylem and Thales Water Advisors.
Our fall Tech Challenge yielded a record-setting crop of solutions coming from eight countries on the topics of PFAS remediation and mitigation and structural analysis of pressurized pipes. Our sponsors – A. O. Smith Corporation, Badger Meter and Watts Water Technologies – are busy meeting with the finalists, and we expect to announce a winner in early 2024. We also conducted a request for proposals on behalf of the Green Lake Association seeking solutions for phosphorus overloading, with more than 20 responses – an encouraging result.
Our groundbreaking WAVE: Water Stewardship Verified program showed strong growth in its second year. Fifteen companies are now going through the WAVE process or have accomplished independent verification, with a handful more committed for 2024. Sloan recently became the fourth organization to achieve verification. Congratulations, Sloan!
In May, our work on WAVE was validated when Fast Company named it as honorable mention in the water category as part of its World-Changing Ideas Awards. Stay tuned for more growth of this program in 2024.
We continued to evangelize this year about the need for corporate water stewardship. We deepened our work with the American Chemistry Council and Suppliers Partnership for the Environment (SP), including creation of a Water Stewardship Strategy Framework for SP in fall.
In March, we helped organize the first meeting of Great Lakes WISE (Water Innovation & Stewardship Exchange). This forum, led by the Council of the Great Lakes Region, allows businesses and other stakeholders to discuss water issues, encourage water stewardship and promote this valuable resource in our collective backyard.
The following month, we announced a new partnership with Rockwell Automation. Together we are promoting water stewardship services and technological solutions. The partnership has already proved productive, and we’re excited to see where it goes in 2024. Rockwell joins KPMG and Riverwater Partners as strategic partners with WAVE.
We stayed busy with worldwide stewardship events this year. We’re adding a new one to our slate in 2024 as Industry Trade Ally for Smart Energy Decisions’ Net Zero Forum Spring. Held Feb. 26-28 in The Woodlands, Texas, the Net Zero Forum is dedicated to helping energy customers source and qualify the right energy suppliers for their decarbonization and emissions reduction goals. Members of The Water Council are invited to apply for 1:1 meetings or take $100 off their General Attendee registration.
With numerous members and partners that operate across the world, The Water Council has always viewed itself as a global organization, and that becomes truer every year. In March we participated in the UN Water Conference, the first such conference in a generation. We were proud to submit a commitment to the UN Water Action Agenda and sign onto the Blueprint for a Circular Water-Smart Society presented by the Water Alliance of the Netherlands.
Speaking of the Water Alliance, we worked with the Dutch group on a video in fall on how to enter the U.S. market. That video was followed by a feature in the Water Alliance’s quarterly magazine, Waterproof. The issue also includes a spread about the memorandum of understanding signed in September by the Water Alliance and The Water Council while Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers visited the Netherlands.
Following another successful Water Leaders Summit in September, we co-hosted the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Roadshow in Milwaukee. Representatives from the ADB, World Bank and several other agencies helped water technology companies learn how they can get involved in infrastructure projects in developing nations. I believe this is the start of a strong partnership with the ADB.
We also continued our relationship with Phuket, Thailand, through the U.S. Water Partnership, joining a Milwaukee delegation to Phuket and Singapore in June. A Phuket delegation traveled to Milwaukee this year for training at Milwaukee Water Works.
Finally, we hosted an international delegation on a business development tour of Milwaukee following WEFTEC. More than 40 representatives of water technology companies and water organizations from nine countries joined us to learn more about the U.S. market, the work of The Water Council and Milwaukee’s water tech cluster.
Our growing international reach reflects the overall growth of our world water hub. We welcomed several new tenants to our headquarters at the Global Water Center this year, including Corvias Infrastructure Solutions (CIS), ECT of France and Pipesonic of Canada. Our Oasis Coworking Community is now full, and we are looking at options to expand the available space.
We are also growing our membership, with 37 new members in 2023 bringing our total membership to 154. That includes our newest member, Mathison Manufacturing Inc., and returning members Dana Investment Advisors and ITU AbsorbTech. If you’re not a member yet, a new year is a great time to join!
Our members, along with our board, partner organizations and other supporters, allow us to fulfill our mission to solve global water challenges through water innovation and stewardship. We are so grateful for your support and excited to see what happens in 2024! May you enjoy a safe and relaxing holiday season with family and friends.
Happy holidays from The Water Council!