Q&A: Behind the Scenes of WEP

Sept. 4, 2020

WQP Associate Editor Cristina Tuser spoke to Dave Marsh, managing director for the Water Equipment & Policy Research Center (WEP), about the foundation of WEP and several projects that have advanced the center’s mission.

About the author:

Dave Marsh is managing director for WEP. Marsh can be reached at [email protected]


Cristina Tuser: What was the genesis of WEP?

Dave Marsh: Milwaukee, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, became a natural site for breweries and tanneries that use a great deal of water. As a result, it also became the home for many companies that produced products such as pumps, meters and filters water users needed. Today, Southeastern Wisconsin is the home to more companies serving the water industry than any other city in the U.S. Milwaukee is also home to universities deeply involved in water research. 

Ten years ago, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University collaborated with the area’s large companies in submitting a proposal to the National Science Foundation to form an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center focused on water. Its founding industry members were A.O. Smith Corp., Badger Meter, Baker Manufacturing, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Pentair.

Tuser: What has contributed to the rapid growth of WEP?

Marsh: WEP has more than tripled the number of members since its founding. This can be attributed to several things, including the growing demand for clean potable water and protecting the environment; the dominance of the Milwaukee area as a hub for freshwater science, technology, manufacturing and education; and WEP is the nation’s only I/UCRC focused solely on creating game-changing technology and policy that provides members with innovative solutions to meet their customers’ drinking water and wastewater needs.

WEP has also developed core strengths important to its members, including real-time sensors that detect contaminants in water and wastewater systems and remote locations; nutrient removal, advanced wastewater treatment, anaerobic digestion and bioenergy generation; innovative materials that resist corrosion, reduce friction and save energy in water treatment and distribution systems, as well as self-healing materials that automatically repair cracks; and IoT that integrates sensors and devices into smart water systems.

Because policy and regulations in the water industry are critical for the adoption of new technologies, WEP is the only one of 75 I/UCRCs that has a policy component to its mission. WEP is not a lobbyist, but provides data from its research to policy makers to aid in reaching informed decisions.

Tuser: What is the center’s core mission? 

Marsh: WEP’s core mission is to fund the development of innovative technologies and data driven policy studies for the consumer, municipal and industrial markets. It is also to create intellectual property for WEP members, and trains the next generation of water researchers and technicians.

Tuser: How can research efforts such as these shape the future of the industry?

Marsh: Much corporate research and development activities focus on incremental advances in product design and technology. WEP focuses on developing disruptive technologies that will result in significant improvements in how water, wastewater and environmental challenges are addressed. 

Tuser: Particularly on emerging contaminants, why is it vital to continue driving these conversations?

Marsh: Today’s accepted water technologies are designed to address current contaminants. However, many emerging contaminants such as PFAS and endocrine disrupting chemicals exist in surface water and groundwater that current technology may be incapable of addressing. Research funded by WEP will develop technologies to detect and remediate these contaminants.