Chicago Wants to Be World Water Leader – Next City

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Chicago Wants to Be World Water Leader

Chicago on Lake Michigan (Photo by Nicolas Henderson)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced yesterday the launch of Current, a public-private initiative to drive water-related research.

Led by the city, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, and World Business Chicago, Current will aim to advance water systems’ efficiency and resiliency, develop and deploy technology to improve wastewater treatment, and increase investment and employment in the water industry.

It will launch with three programs: a research consortium of industry, public utilities and universities to facilitate applied research, a technology demonstration network, and a program to encourage private and public entities to reuse wastewater and water stream sources.

“Chicago’s strong water economy puts our region in a prime position to become the global leader in developing technology for the next generation of water infrastructure,” Emanuel said. “As global demand for water technology increases, Current will ensure we are all working together to put Chicago at the forefront of the water economy and create jobs and drive innovation.”

Chicago’s water economy is already the fourth largest in the U.S., with water infrastructure and technology accounting for $14 billion of the gross regional product. The region is home to both the world’s largest water treatment plant, and the world’s largest wastewater plant. Regional water companies currently employ more than 99,589 people.

The city estimates that Current programs will support more than 400 businesses and create more than $250 million in economic value over 10 years. A study of Milwaukee’s Water Technology District, which similarly brings together public, private and academic bodies to advance water research, found that $211.6 million of investment in the neighborhood drove ample development of both commercial properties and public infrastructure, and boosted the district’s property taxes by 16.6 percent between 2012 and 2014, even as property values citywide fell by 11.1 percent.

Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at

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Tags: chicagowatercity water