At more than 30 events over seven days, we learned we need to go further, faster when it comes to the challenges facing our water infrastructure—and one way we can do that is by working together
- By Alaina Harkness, Executive Director, Current
- December 4, 2020
The strength and diversity of water leadership in the Chicago region was on full display during the first-ever Chicago Water Week (CWW) this fall. Organized by Current, presented by Greeley and Hansen, and officially recognized by Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, the 30-plus mostly virtual events brought more than 2,000 participants together to discuss the critical role of water in Chicago’s environment, economy, and society. The wide range of inspiring and provocative water-focused events featured the region’s utility leaders, policymakers, entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, and industry veterans. CWW was an opportunity to build connections with cross-sector water leaders, discover novel ideas and technologies, and be inspired to solve the big water challenges affecting our region and world. The impact? Strengthening Chicago’s already significant ecosystem of water leaders and focusing the community on what it will take to address pressing water challenges in our own homes and backyards, and around the world.
A common theme through the week was the need to accelerate solutions to water problems that affect our lives, livelihoods, and environments. In some cases, problems are longstanding, while others are just beginning to be understood. Many are becoming more serious due to aging infrastructure, deepening impacts of climate change, and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Faster problem solving will require collaboration: to improve community awareness and knowledge of potential hazards, incentivize innovation and lower the risks and barriers to test novel solutions, match water technology supply and demand more efficiently, create and support effective policy, and inspire the next generation of water leaders to tackle the water challenges on the horizon.
While Chicago Water Week highlighted the significant local power, we have to meet water challenges here in Chicago and Illinois, it also underscored the importance of broader federal leadership. Support from Capitol Hill is crucial both to fund the advanced research and technological innovation that can create breakthrough solutions, and to maintain the critical infrastructure that supports and protects our water resources. Addressing the full-scale replacement of lead service lines or the restoration and protection of our threatened coastlines, for example, requires federal resources, cooperation, and leadership. According to Josh Ellis, Metropolitan Planning Council, “We are optimistic about the prospects for a state lead-service line replacement bill in 2021, and we hope that the new federal administration will likewise sharpen its focus on critical water issues, press for investment in crucial water infrastructure needs, and take a stand on matters such as a national water shutoff moratorium.”
Chicago Water Week was itself an innovation, inspired by the opportunity to strengthen Chicago’s water leadership during the pandemic and made possible by the sustaining support of Current’s major funders: the City of Chicago Department of Water Management, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Illinois, and McDougal Family Foundation. “We were overwhelmed by the positive response and clear demand for more focused attention on meeting our water challenges,” said Current’s Executive Director Alaina Harkness. “We hope that Chicago Water Week will be one of those 2020 adaptations that continues far into the future.” If you would like to get involved in a future Chicago Water Week, either as a program partner or a sponsor, please contact George Brigandi to learn more.
We hope to see you at upcoming events and don’t forget to follow Current on LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube to stay up to date on our latest happenings!