Managing Water Seen as Crucial

Southeast Wisconsin is actively positioning itself to be a national and world leader in the water business, from university research at the UW-Milwaukee Water Institute, to water efficiency, quality, and conservation technologies and products. The regional economic development organization, Milwaukee 7, has made this a key development strategy.

Water (the pumping of, heating of, treatment of, use of, and critical habitat) is expensive for households, business, and governments. Becoming more efficient in water use is a strategy to hold down system costs to all parties.

Water is also viewed in a new(er) global context in terms of its limited quantities of fresh and acceptable quality. Climate change is affecting the hydrological cycles by changing rainfall patterns and rates of evaporation (due to heat and dryness), which causes some regions to become more arid, some to become more wet, and rain events to be less frequent but more severe. How exactly this will impact each region is different, but it will affect us all, and thus a more conscious approach to water use and management is critical to a prosperous future. It is the critical resource for human survival, and must be taken with the highest regard of seriousness.

Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel, October 18, 2010
Milwaukee 7 – Water Council Home Page

Milwaukee Public Library installs green roof

The 30,000 square foot roof of the Milwaukee Public Library central branch has been outfitted with a brand new green roof. In addition to providing much-needed stormwater runoff control and mitigation, the green roof has an expected life double that of conventional roofing systems, reducing replacement cost. Green Roofs also provide habitat for birds and insects, a green space for visitors, and mitigate the urban heat island effect.

The library will also be outfitted with solar photovoltaic panels to produce electricity on-site. These panels will produce approximately 36,000 kWh per year.

Green Roofs are an excellent example of utilizing an old building technique with new technology to achieve environmental and social goals – but also makes financial sense. In my ideal world, all buildings would be built with (or retrofitted) combinations of green roofs and solar thermal and solar photovoltiacs (obviously with would not work on all buildings, such as small buildings in wooded areas where the roof is shaded most of the time). Not a difficult thing to do; but a decision that needs to be made outside of the present deleterious paradigm.

Details can be found at the Milwaukee Public Library project page

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, May 8, 2010

Municipal water rates heading north?

Water is a fundamental human need. It is also critical to our economy. So, when utilities propose to increase water use fees, people take notice.

The rates will not go up uniformly, however. In some places the rate increase would be around 30%, while in other places it would exceed 50% (“New Berlin and Mequon, would get a 50.6% and a 58.9% rate increase, respectively”). Likely due to cost of delivery of product.

The Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel article reporting on the proposed hike in Milwaukee includes pushback from MillerCoors, certainly a huge employer and contributor to the local economy.

“That could potentially mean that production, and the associated jobs, could be transitioned to other breweries in our network,” [MillerCoors LLC] Vice President Andrew Moschea said. “Given the prolonged economic downturn, that is something that neither the brewery nor the state should allow to happen.”

Reports suggest that the cost of water at the MillerCoors facility would increase by approximately $600,000. Water, to MillerCoors, is a cost of business, and thus would seek to move production elsewhere if this cost increased locally. However, MillerCoors is not on the ropes. In fact, profits are reported to have increased 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2010 compared to 2009 to $217.2 million – in just 4 months. Thus, the increasing cost of water really is a drop in the bucket for MillerCoors. Further, if the cost of water increases, should not the utility pass the cost along? That’s how it works. And, although $600,000 is nothing to sneeze at, the cost of moving production to another site would never recoup $600,000 per year in costs. HR costs in shifting the workforce would far exceed that figure alone, much less the facilities.

On another note, this same article mentions how the utility has a perverse financial incentive to not encourage/force water conservation, because it reduces cashflow (despite having wide-ranging social, environmental, and economic benefits).

“Nicolini and Lewis said a 12% decrease in water usage from 2006 through 2008 cut Water Works revenue by $4.3 million a year, partly because residents are trying to save water by watering their lawns less often and installing more efficient appliances.”

As an interesting side note, reading the public comments submitted to the Journal-Sentinel article are always entertaining, as well as head scratching and wondering how some folks… well, I won’t go there. But I will comment how it is interesting how some readers comments show how conserving water, water quality/quantity, restoring natural surface waters, and utility rates have become highly politicised topics. Certainly, there is no clear line drawn in the sand, but there is clear correlation between political orientation and stances on these issues.

Infrastructure costs are higher in the suburbs. Less people/businesses per acre means less people paying per unit of infrastructure, which means higher costs. Does your lawn help pay the taxes? Sure does consume resources. In addition, resource use is strongly inversely correlated to population density, displaying that low density suburbs consume more resources (water, electricity, fuel, etc), and have high per-person infrastructure costs, yet somehow residents/businesses located there want to yell about their rates going up faster. Look in the mirror and repeat: location, location, location. First law of real estate (and one of the few).

Update: (May 21, 2010)  MillerCoors announced that increase in water rates will not drive them from Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, May 13, 2010
Business Journal of Milwaukee, May 4, 2010

Wine in Walworth?

As a graduate student, I completed a GIS (Geographic Information System) analysis of optimal wine grape cultivation sites in Sauk and Richland Counties. This report included a brief literature review of the economic development prospects for wine and grapes in Wisconsin and the Midwest. My contribution was developing a GIS process by which to identify sites that may warrent investigation by existing or potential wineries for wine grape cultivation (building on models developed in California). I will post and provide a link to that article once I have it up on the Walworth County UWEX website.

I bring this up because since starting in Walworth County Extension in August 2009, I have seen the opportunity for increased wine production, being a heavily agricultural and tourist economy (as wine production and fruit crop cultivation exists in and contributes to).

I recently came across this report by the AP, reprinted by the USGBC, entitled “Eco-Wineries Turn Wine Red, White and Green” which provides commentary and evidence that wine is an expanding industry domestically, especially those that are taking steps to have “green” operations through water and energy efficiency, green buildings, renewable energy, recycling, and organic and/or conscious crop cultivation measures. On top of this, wine can often tap into the “buy local” appeal.

Walworth County currently has only two wineries – Apple Barn Orchard and Winery and Staller Estate Vineyard and Winery. I met Apple Barn co-owner Judy Jacobson, who is a member of the Walworth County Tourism Bureau board, in September. As I recall, they have been producing wine for two years, and have sold out each year. A great deal of their grapes are from out-of-state sources. I am less familiar with Staller’s at this point, although I have planned visits to each. Part of this is due to the varieties used, but if the opportunity existed for local or regionally sources grapes, this would surely help the ag economy.

Hops is another high-value crop (with high value-added related activities) that I have on my radar…