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Milwaukee Water Commons - shaping Milwaukee's water future, together.

Water - central to Milwaukee's history, livelihood, and experience is central to the 2016 Rock the Green festival location – Reed Street Yards. We thought we'd share what's going on in the water space in our community by interviewing the leaders who are helping to shape the discussions of Milwaukee as a Water City. This is the first of a series.

We sat down this Fall with Ann Brummitt, Co-Director of the Milwaukee Water Commons. The Milwaukee Water Commons is a cross-city network that fosters connection, collaboration and broad community leadership on behalf of our waters. They promote stewardship of, equitable access to, and shared decision-making for our common waters. They are helping catalyze Milwaukee as a model water city - a place where we all have a stake in the health of our waters and all share in their stewardship as well as their benefits.

“You can't go wrong with building community” says Ann Brummitt

Prior to joining the Commons, Ann was the Director/founder of the Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition which succeeded in protecting six miles of river and over 800 acres of urban wilderness, and began implementation of a master plan to improve recreation and wildlife habitat along the river. It was on one of her morning pilgrimages to Lake Michigan with her running partners that she was introduced to and invited to co-lead the Commons.

What's your water story? What is your connection with water? What would a Water City look like? How would a Water City engage its populous? What's possible?

These questions are central to the Milwaukee Water Commons.

Beginning in 2013 with the regions energy around Milwaukee Water Hub, they had questions of what that exactly meant - a water hub? What does it mean beyond business and economic development? So, they started asking questions and interviewing 25 interviews from a broad slice of Milwaukee – from Kevin Schafer, executive director of MMSD to people of faith, to health care professionals, to food growers, people of color, etc. All shared with them their thoughts on what a water hub, a water city could be and mean for: jobs, access to water for recreation (canoes to fishing to slides), improved infrastructure (basements not flooding), etc.

The culmination set the groundwork for the Milwaukee Water Commons vision for Milwaukee. They want Milwaukeeans to see Milwaukee as being than a water hub, but rather as being the Water City. One that embraces, celebrates, connects, encourages water knowledge and stewardship in the community, leadership, and integrates culture and art.

To that end, the Milwaukee Water Commons is taking a three prong approach: Telling a New Story “We are Water”, Water School, Water City 3.0

We Are Water – is about telling a new story about our relationship with water. The Milwaukee Water Commons is tapping into the arts community to share the sacred and powerful message water has in our lives. To that end the commons has created an artist in residence program and holds the annual We Are Water Event at Bradford Beach. This year's event had 200-300 people, native american speakers, drummers, and dancing, as well as a temporary art exhibit made out of Great Lakes sand. In 2014 this resulted in the creation of a great lakes map image made from over 280 cups of water with submersible lights.

Food for thought: if you live in Milwaukee - 70% of your body is Lake Michigan

Water School is about cultivating lasting neighborhood based water leadership and stewardship throughout the city. By partnering with organizations each water school site project include water education, art making, resources, and leadership development to connect water to everyday use in our neighborhoods, our homes, and our bodies. Partner experts from MMSD, UW School of Freshwater Sciences, City of Milwaukee provide the education, while the Milwaukee Water Commons provides resources and seed money. Check out some of the projects.!projects/c21kz

Water City 3.0 is developing with “the commons” approach of inclusivity and engagement. To date, over 250 leaders from faith, urban food, youth, architecture/design, public health and arts communities, as well as traditional environmental organizations, have participated in three visioning and planning sessions and 14 working groups. Close to 1000 people have responded to surveys and ballots. Learn more about the process.

What you can do? How can you get involved?:

  • Get involved in the city, school, or your story.

  • Be a site for a water school.

  • Partner with other organizations aligned with water.

  • Perhaps the most important thing is to “find your connection to water” - what is “your water story” and find the celebration and joy around that.

Learn more at:

Milwaukee Water Commons.

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