By the Milwaukee Water Council
The world is undergoing a quiet shift that will have a dramatic impact on every aspect of our lives – including our health and well-being. The reason: The majority of the world’s population now lives in cities, a milestone hit in 2007. Today, we must ask ourselves how to nutritiously and effectively feed our expanding urban populations. In reviewing the facts, water emerges as one of the most importing issues affecting sustainability:
- Current agricultural practices put a high stress on water as vast amounts are needed to grow food (150 gallons for one loaf of bread).
- Significant energy resources are expended to transport water to farms and, in turn, food to its final destination (more than 1,500 miles on average).
- As fish becomes a growing food staple, natural bodies of water are undergoing stress cause by prevalent fish farming methods.
- Cities face increased problems with water management, including the availability of and production of water suitable for drinking and farming.
With burgeoning populations stressing water resources to the breaking point in many parts of the world, the need for inventive water technologies and policies will continue to increase. A solution? Smarter cities that feed themselves.
“Building a smarter city”
Long before Europeans discovered the natural resources on the western shore of Lake Michigan, Native Americans inhabited the land that offered an abundance of water to drink and grow food. The tribes’ spelling for the name of this place varied from ominowakiing to minwaking to Millioke, but they all meant the same: “gathering place by the water.” Today, we know this city as Milwaukee.
Milwaukee has emerged as a leader in water sciences and urban food production by mixing its rich heritage – and most precious resource – with leading edge research and technology. International recognition of the city as a water hub escalated when Milwaukee became the 14th city in the world to be a member of the U.N. Global Compact Cities Programme, and the only city to focus on water quality.
With the help of scientists at the Great Lakes WATER Institute, a part of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is pioneering urban agricultural systems, including aquaponics, a self-sustaining agricultural system used to grow both fish and plants. This unique system has resulted in the creation of dynamic, new business opportunities to provide urban residents with year-round fresh, nutritious food with a low carbon footprint. The science behind aquaponics makes it a “smarter” solution to food production in urban centers – no matter whether the centers are located in an arid desert or on frozen tundra.
Milwaukee has been at the forefront of aquaponics, and now the city now has the opportunity refine and scale the urban agricultural systems so they are replicable and economically-sustainable.
“Building a smarter planet”
Solutions are on the way for Milwaukee and the rest of the world from IBM, a global company committed to “building a smarter planet.” According to IBM:
A smarter planet, while global by definition, happens on the industry level. It is driven by forward-thinking organizations that share a common outlook: They see change as an opportunity, and they act on possibilities, not just react to problems.
IBM is taking their extensive knowledge and experience in solving global issues and applying them to cities through the Smarter Cities Challenge, a competitive grant program lasting three years. Through the program, teams from IBM will work with 100 cities around the world to address the wide-range of challenges cities face today as they work to become more vibrant and livable places for the future.
Following a rigorous review process, IBM selected Milwaukee as one of only 24 cities to earn a grant in 2011. The team from IBM will travel to Milwaukee this June for a three-week stay, and will concentrate their efforts on helping the city create an aquaponics system that can be used by cities near and far.
The efforts will be local, but the goals are global:
- To improve access to more nutritious food for healthier societies;
- To reduce food and transportation costs;
- To become more efficient by reusing water and reducing energy consumption;
- To create a global network of “smarter cities” that share innovations in urban agriculture systems.
By combining IBM’s vast experience in finding ingenious solutions to important issues with Milwaukee’s innovative urban agriculture program, the partnership is sure to help people in urban areas better feed themselves, while protecting Earth’s most valuable resource: water. Now, that’s smart!
The Milwaukee Water Council; the only organization of its kind in the United States, is successfully coalescing industry, academia and government into a powerful force in the world water marketplace.