Governor visits UWM to survey the water workforce landscape

After touring research labs at the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences on Aug. 30, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said the best way to protect the state’s water resources while also supporting economic growth is through an alliance among all UW System campuses and the state’s water-related business cluster.

Evers said he believes such an initiative, called the Freshwater Collaborative, would have bipartisan support in the Legislature because it will generate the brainpower to solve local, regional and global water issues, while filling a need for workers in one of the world’s fastest growing economic sectors.

UWM will lead the Freshwater Collaborative, which will bring academia and industry together statewide in the same way that the Water Council has joined the two parties in Milwaukee, said UWM Chancellor Mark Mone.

Osvaldo Jhonatan Sepulveda Villet, an assistant professor in UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences, explains his aquaculture research to Gov. Tony Evers on Friday. (UWM Photo)

The initiative would coordinate academic research to help with problems that intersect with business, such as agricultural water runoff pollution and sustainable industrial water uses.

Already, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has provided $670,000 in matching grants to the program, and the UW System is chipping in $1.4 million. The collaborative will require $27.6 million altogether, phased in over three budget cycles.

A UWM analysis estimated Wisconsin’s water workforce at about 60,000. A United Nations report said the number of jobs in the water sector globally could triple over the next two decades.

The Freshwater Collaborative would bring additional benefits, helping to keep more Wisconsinites in state while also attracting out-of-state students. By 2025, it is estimated that it will result in 400 new graduate students in Wisconsin; 100 new faculty, researchers and water professionals; and a total of 650 new jobs.

Gov. Tony Evers answers questions during a news conference Friday at the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences. (UWM Photo)

During his visit, the governor met with UWM experts in the fields of micro-contaminants, genomics and aquaculture before touring Lake Michigan on the school’s research vessel, Neeskay.

To make sure we have clean and safe water for generations to come, we need to bring together the public and the private sectors, Evers said, “and that’s going to take more resources.”

One example of an environmental problem that also affects economic health is the poor water quality in Green Bay stemming largely from agricultural runoff, said Val Klump, dean of UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences. And agriculture is looking for answers.

“It is hard to imagine any endeavor more important than ensuring the availability of safe, clean freshwater,” Klump said. “UW schools can play a key role, in that no other institution has the tools or capacity to identify, map and solve these often-complex problems. Employers are snapping up our students, and are asking us to produce more, and that is the goal – to make UW and Wisconsin the world’s leader in freshwater training and research.”

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