Liquid Assets: Tri-State displays water technology innovation efforts on national stage

Confluence seen as model for other U.S. 'clusters'

CINCINNATI – For a few days this week, Cincinnati has been the water technology innovation capital of the U.S.

That’s because the city has been hosting the U.S. EPA Water Technology Innovation Cluster Meeting from March 24 through 26.

It’s the first formal gathering of leaders from more than a dozen groups across the country who are trying to make it easier for companies to develop and commercialize technology to address the planet’s major water problems: scarcity, quality and security.

Confluence , which covers Cincinnati, Dayton, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana, was among the participants. WCPO and 91.7 WVXU in 2013 produced a series of stories in 2013 called “Liquid Assets" that explored the organization’s work and the region’s bountiful water supply as an economic advantage .

Confluence is viewed as an “early leader” in the water technology innovation effort, said Jeff Moeller, director of water technologies for the Water Environment Research Foundation in Alexandria, Va.

When organizations like Confluence work well, they nurture innovations that can save money, reduce costs, help the environment and create jobs at the same time, he said.

By working together, they can accomplish even more, said Sally Gutiérrez, director of the Environmental Technology Innovation Cluster Development and Support Program at the EPA’s Office of Research and Development in Cincinnati.

“To me, one of the ways that we’re still exporting water knowledge out of the region is really trying to capitalize on all of the experience we’re having here with Confluence and really looking at where that connects with other places and where there are opportunities,” Gutiérrez said. “That is a great advantage in kind of having them on our home turf.”

If the various cluster groups can collaborate successfully, they could end up saving businesses time and money as they work to market products nationwide, said Confluence board Chairman Alan Vicory.

That’s something the U.S. EPA supports, but the government isn’t in a position to pick favorites among business enterprises or technology innovations, said Ellen Gilinsky, senior policy advisor in the EPA’s Office of Water.

Officials in Washington, D.C., are impressed with the way Confluence has been able to coordinate efforts among state and local officials and business leaders in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, Gilinsky said.

“The water doesn’t care what state it’s in,” she said. “The Ohio River keeps moving.”

The time for action is moving, too, as the world’s water challenges grow ever more urgent, said Earl Jones, chairman of the New England Water Innovation Network in Boston.

“Population growth, urbanization, climate volatility, new contaminants, aging infrastructure – all of these things are presenting a set of global water challenges that I feel are accelerating ahead of us,” said Jones, who is attending this week’s meeting. “The only way we’re going to get at this is through innovation.”

That’s what makes the work of the clusters – and cooperation among them – so important, he said.

With their work in the Tri-State, Confluence and the local EPA office are showing other cluster organizations around the country what can be done, said Glenn Schrader, associate dean for research and graduate education at The University of Arizona’s College of Engineering.

“What we need to learn is best practices, and we’ll do that through collaboration,” Schrader said. “Confluence is an absolutely great example for us to follow and learn from.”

The U.S. EPA Water Technology Innovation Cluster Meeting ends Wednesday.

For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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