Earlier this month, several Freshwater staff attended the US Water Alliance’s One Water Summit in Milwaukee. There, they joined more than 800 participants from 263 cities representing a wide swath of professional and community roles in the water world: drinking water and wastewater utility managers, engineers working to help soak water in the ground where it falls, artists connecting the public to their own relationships with water, community-based organizations sharing stories of impact and success, and more.
The conference is structured very differently from others in that this conference aims to intentionally connect cross-water-sector participants from diverse groups using sessions with panel discussions and breakout groups rather than lectures, built-in networking opportunities, and arts and culture experiences meant to touch the heart. The Summit’s central theme is that all water has value and should be managed in a sustainable, inclusive, and integrated way.
It was no wonder, then, that Freshwater Board Member Renée Willette (who serves as Vice President for Programs and Strategy at the US Water Alliance) encouraged our Joyce Foundation-funded Great Lakes Groundwater Governance research team to form a delegation as a way to highlight and wrap up the project we’ve been leading for the last year and half that focused on EPA Region 5 (the six Great Lake states from Minnesota to Ohio, and the 35 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations in that geography).
While Freshwater led the research collaborative, we were invaluably (and virtually) supported by legal consultancy Water365, university researchers from the University of Minnesota and Harvard, as well as staff from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This meeting provided our first, in-person team meeting and the opportunity to share outcomes from the effort and engage in a solution-oriented discussion that will lay the foundation for our recommendations and the proposal for the second phase of the project. While we wrap up phase one and prepare for phase two, the work is already in motion:, our own Dr. Carrie Jennings was a part of the “Centering Water Stewards” panel as a result of the collaborative efforts with indigenous groups that are stemming from this work.
Also represented at the Summit were two other delegations from Minnesota: one hosted by the Metropolitan Council, and one by the Environmental Justice Coordinating Committee, an entirely black and brown leadership working cooperatively to understand and address environment justice overburden in their communities in Minneapolis and the East Side of St. Paul. Before leaving, we had a chance to connect briefly with both delegations about how to continue the conversation when we get back home, and we plan to begin that One Water dialogue very soon.
Congrats to Renée and the whole US Water Alliance team on a truly great conference, and to the Groundwater Governance team for rounding out an incredible phase one of the project!
- Jen Kader, Director for Engagement and Systems Change