In an effort University of Wisconsin System leaders say would establish the state’s brand as the “Silicon Valley of Water,” leaders this week unveiled plans for a new statewide freshwater initiative aimed at filling the demand for a water workforce.
The proposed Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, which would cost $27.6 million in state support when fully implemented, is envisioned as the “nation’s most significant, integrated, multi-institutional higher education program serving the freshwater economy,” according to UW System Board of Regents documents.
UW System leaders presented the proposal at the Board of Regents meeting Thursday.
The FCW, which would be implemented across all 13 UW System campuses, is designed to address 10 major water challenges in Wisconsin and the world, including agricultural water management, industrial water engineering and technology, Great Lakes management and restoration, water business and finance and aquaculture, among others. UW-Milwaukee, which has a School of Freshwater Sciences, would lead the effort.
“We are delighted to be part of this statewide collaboration to address the water challenges facing not just Wisconsin but also the world,” said Mark Mone, chancellor of UWM. “The involvement of all 13 University of Wisconsin institutions demonstrates the strength of this special collaboration. “
System leaders said the collaborative would help fill the global and local demand for a water-focused workforce and solidify the state’s world leadership in freshwater science.
“The Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin will attract local, regional, and global talent to Wisconsin, helping make us the ‘Silicon Valley of Water,’” said Ray Cross, president of the University of Wisconsin System. “It is another example of how invaluable the UW System is, and how our campuses are meeting the needs of Wisconsin and the nation.”
The initiative would be phased in over three biennial budgets. The first phase, which would be implemented in 2020-21, would require a $10.7 million base budget. Funding would ramp up by $9.9 million in the second biennium, and by an additional $7 million in the third biennium, for a total of $27.6 million in ongoing base support.
Funding for the collaborative is separate from the UW System’s $107.5 million operating budget request for 2019-21.
The proposal would allow the system to allocate the funds, across all 13 campuses, to devise new water-centric training programs for undergraduates, provide scholarships, invest in branding related to the “Silicon Valley of Water,” enhance workforce development programming and recruit faculty.