The Water Council on why water utilities need innovation

Posted by Ryan Schradin from Modern Equipment Manufacturer on October 31, 2019

The Modern Equipment Manufacturer has spent the last month or so sharing some very interesting conversations that we had with the companies that were exhibiting, speaking and demonstrating their products at the recent WEFTEC Conference. And what we’ve discovered is an industry facing some very unique challenges, being asked to accomplish many things with few resources, and poised for innovation.

Water is essential for life, and there are many organizations and private enterprises looking to help the municipal water utilities make clean water available to everyone. And one of the ways they’re doing that is with innovative new technologies and solutions that are helping water utilities operate more effectively and efficiently, while also helping them face some of the new challenges that have arisen in the past few years.

One of those organizations leading the way is The Water Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to solving critical global water challenges by supporting innovation in freshwater technology and driving those new solutions to the industries that need them.

To learn more about The Water Council, the ways they’re helping to drive water innovation and the challenges facing modern water utilities, we sat down with The Water Council’s VP of Economic Development, Karen Frost.

Here is what she had to say:

Modern Equipment Manufacturer (MEM): Why is it so important right now for there to be an organization like The Water Council? Why is Milwaukee the perfect place for it to operate? 

Karen Frost: Whether it’s too much water, too little water or quality issues, water challenges are both global and diverse. The benefit of The Water Council is our ability to advance innovation and connections faster and farther by building and scaling relationships locally, regionally, nationally and globally. We do this by cross-pollinating the broader water tech ecosystem, including academia, industry and government, to help our member network solve emerging water tech issues.

Since we serve as that critical hub, we help our members do that much faster, quicker and easier than if they were trying to make the right connections on their own. For example, if a utility partner is looking for an innovative solution to a unique challenge, they can come to The Water Council and get plugged into connecting with the right connections at the right time.

And why Milwaukee? Our location on the shore of Lake Michigan fostered early water-intensive industries, as well as the solution providers that served that market and which has been thriving for 150 years. It is that unique combination of innovative water technology companies and our natural assets that position Milwaukee as THE ideal and strategic place to serve as the world’s water technology hub.

As the leading water cluster, we’ve built on our historical industrial assets by intentionally curating a networked system as both a collaborator and connector, partnering with industry and linking water technology advocates and practitioners together. This includes academic partners, such as Marquette University, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Whitewater, Milwaukee School of Engineering, among others, as well as our state’s economic development team. These highly invested and engaged partners create a unique amplifier in our region.

MEM:How have the waste water and water quality industry and utilities been changing and evolving?

Karen Frost: As many of your readers already know, water challenges are diverse and are in many ways tied to a region, such as lack of freshwater and seawater intrusion in Western States and overabundance of water and stormwater in other areas, and water quality concerns are in just about every area. Other emerging issues that come to mind are contaminants including PFAS/PFOS, microplastics, lead, trace pharmaceuticals, nutrient issues, such as nitrogen or phosphorus, arsenic, brackish water, groundwater contamination and more. The list is expansive and definitely tied to regional concerns and stresses.

Responses to these challenges require new solutions and creative problem-solving. One example of how the wastewater industry is evolving alongside emerging trends is the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD). The utility uses green infrastructure and a deep tunnel system to offset heavy rain events and stormwater runoff that come in through the combined sewer system or directly into our streams, rivers and lakes.

MEM: What are some of the challenges facing the organizations you work with and how does The Water Council help?

Karen Frost: Industry challenges are diverse; some are regulatory driven, others are driven by industry needs. Some challenges are a result of infrastructure itself, whether that be age/failure (leaking or broken pipes) or lead pipes, requiring intervention. Regardless of the challenge at hand, all are constrained by capital budgets, time and scale of the problems.

We help open doors for innovation and solutions through several of our programs. The BREW Accelerator and BREW Corporate Accelerator, powered by A. O. Smith Corporation, assist water tech startups with lean startup training, office space, R&D resources, and seed funding as well as mentors and coaches to get these companies market ready.

Our Pilot Program connects early stage companies with funding opportunities and demonstration sites to validate their technology in real-world application. And our newest program is the Tech Challenge, providing opportunities for innovative solvers anywhere to propose their solutions to corporate-sponsored challenge topics. Winners have a chance to obtain funding or potentially partner with the corporate sponsor in a variety of ways; licensing and more.

MEM: What overarching technology trends are making their way into waste water and water quality?

Karen Frost: We are seeing a trend toward real-time analysis, knowing what’s in your water sooner, decentralized treatment, like water purifications for point of use or whole house and septic-system alternatives for single-home wastewater treatment systems.

MEM: Where is the waste water and water treatment industry going? What will it look like five years from now? Ten years from now?

Karen Frost: You do not have to read the news long to glean that water stresses and other water-related challenges will continue to be drivers for the solutions and innovations that the marketplace will demand.

As population continues to grow and water challenges such as prolonged drought, water shortages and water quality concerns amplify, solutions will follow including broader scale water reuse, decentralized solutions, remediation of emerging contaminants and more efficient solutions for desalination, are examples.  Industry needs will also be a major driver for solutions.

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