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A new course for clean water

Marc Lefkowitz  |  01/18/13 @ 9:00am  |  Posted in Clean water

We clicked open an email this morning announcing the SC2019 Water Group’s merger with the Alliance for Water Future. The Water Sustainability Council, a volunteer group from Cleveland’s 10-year sustainability effort, is joining forces with a new organization that wants to set up a big tent for all clean water efforts.

Know your water<br />Alliance for Water Future wants to nurture a clean water culture in Cleveland. Photo: GCBL.

We caught up with Fran DiDonato, director of The Alliance for Water Future, to ask her, what we can expect from an umbrella water group? And—with GCBL collecting ideas for a Clean Water agenda this month—we asked her to consider, what big goals do we need to set for clean water?

With the many people and organizations focused on clean water, what do you hope to accomplish?

We want to convene, connect and coordinate efforts across the region. We will focus efforts on the economic development of water, but also on environmental stewardship. We’re not a traditional ED or environmental org. We want to tell the turn-around story from Burning River to how we use water and value it now to improve our economy.

Are you a think tank? Will you publish reports about how to achieve big goals in clean water?

We won’t necessarily write papers. We’re going to be more of a process than a point of view. Right now we have ten partners including the Sewer District, the Port, the Great Lakes Science Center, and Nortech on our steering committee. Our purpose is to convene the conversation and connect. So, if you want to know what’s happening with water, we will connect you to the right people.

Ideally, what we would like to do is have the businesses here in NEO be successful and tell their stories. So, for example, Nortech did a roadmap for a water cluster. They haven’t promoted it yet like their advanced energy roadmap. Its focusing on where Northeast Ohio has its strengths: Automation controls, anti-corrosives and sorbents (media that remove pollutants).

Describe your thinking on what is sustainable water in the long term for Northeast Ohio?

Everyone looks at water from a scarcity point of view. But we’re sitting on one of the biggest resources of fresh water. So, how do we get people to value something they don’t value? If you had a huge bank account, you wouldn’t withdraw money just to spend it. We have an abundance. But if we don’t treat it like it has value, we completely devalue it.

We’re still looking at it piecemeal. Ultimately, what is the value of water? Not just as a commodity, but the (ecological) services that waterway provides.

With climate change and changing weather we need to be asking, what does that mean for water resources?

One of the goals GCBL sets out for the region on Clean Water is creating a culture that celebrates, even reveres, water. How do we do this?

In the short term, we bring a network together and eventually reach the public. Coming up, we have World Water Day in March and the Great Lakes Science Center hosting (LEEDCo’s) Lorry Wagner to speak about turbines on the lake. The Science Center is going to have a huge freshwater exhibit, and is considering possibly putting it on the (Steamship) Mather with labs that universities could use and people could come see.

What’s next for the Alliance?

We just kicked off our working groups. We want to discuss issues that get to action and innovation. One group is on climate change and changing weather; what will climate change mean for water resources? Stormwater and fracking are the other two working groups.

Also, we’re holding a speaker series on water at the City Club of Cleveland. It starts on January 30 with a panel discussion on water and economic development. The second in the series is on waterfront development and how to leverage our water economy. We’ll wrap with a keynote speaker, someone who can help frame the big question, what is the value of water?

Can we put numbers on it—beyond commodity and can you sell it and the ecosystem services it provides. I don’t know if anyone here has done it.

Next up: Thinking beyond water as economic development, what does it mean to achieve lasting sustainability here?

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