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Moving Beyond Water as a Utility

Water is life. Our survival depends on access to safe, clean water for drinking, hand-washing, toilet-flushing, agriculture, and recreation. But how do we look at water? The answer will shape our actions and determine how we move forward in building a sustainable and just Milwaukee water future.

Often water is thought of as something to be owned, used, or controlled, which places the immediate wants of humans before the needs of our planet, jeopardizing clean air and water for future generations. Alternatively, we can ground our thinking in the knowledge that our health and well-being are interconnected with that of our common waters. Instead of owning or controlling, we work in partnership with water, allowing for decision-making to come from a place of deep respect for our natural environment and generations to come.

As a friend and partner, we often make sacrifices and do things that solely benefit our friend, with no direct benefit to ourselves. What can we do that would benefit or respect the water for its own sake? Josephine Mandamin, an Anishinaabekwe grandmother, took on a sacred walk, traversing over 10,900 miles around each of the Great Lakes. Known as the “Water Walker”, she said the water does not like to be moved, speaking to our tendency to divert water for our own purposes, build dams, and alter the natural course of rivers.

At Milwaukee Water Commons, we believe water belongs to no one and cannot be owned - it is part of the commons. And as part of the commons, we all have a right to clean water and should all share in its stewardship and benefits. Additionally, we have a profound responsibility to protect and pass on clean and abundant fresh water to future generations

Our annual events, programming, and initiatives are all grounded in this mindset of water as a friend and partner. Through our Water School program, we work to empower community members and water leaders to ignite this shift in thinking from water as a utility to water as a friend. At We Are Water, an annual cultural celebration on the shores of Lake Michigan, we build meaningful connections to the water and each other through art and storytelling. And finally, the Cream City Classic gives Milwaukee an opportunity to celebrate water quality improvements in the Milwaukee River with an open water swim race, promoting stewardship, access, inclusion and the notion that these waters belong to all of us.

While many of our events and programs will look different this year amidst COVID-19, we will keep working to lift up our waters and our Milwaukee community in partnership with each other.

We encourage you to look at your relationship with water. Do you see water as something you use or do you recognize your essential interconnectedness with water? How can we begin to change the narrative for ourselves and those around us? What ripple effects could this new way of thinking have on our waters and communities?

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