A Dearth of Drips at Water Summit 2015

Posted by on Jun 24, 2015

Today, the Pfister Hotel is swarming with guests who are excited about the opening day of Summerfest.

So, let’s talk about the most important thing about Summerfest.


One thing that you pick up on after spending some time at the Pfister is that this hotel is not just about luncheons, business travelers who use their expense accounts to buy gin and steaks, and pretty bridesmaids. Nothing wrong with any of those, of course, especially the pretty bridesmaids (so sue me, I’m smitten with the bridesmaids). But what you really quickly understand about the Pfister is that on a very regular basis, there is some pretty progressive stuff happening in our hallowed halls.

Which brings me back around to the most significant thing about Summerfest, and that, my friends, is water. Some would argue that music is what defines this mega watt festival, while others would pick a fight with me over beer and food. I’ll admit I’ve been touched by the significance of enjoying a fried eggplant strip or 37 over the years, and I remember being there reeling at the end of a Violent Femmes concert many years ago as my high school girlfriend discovered she had lost her car keys. But I know that all these superb characteristics of a world-class music fest can’t hold a candle to water. Water would even put that candle out in one swift dousing, and easily, like a boss.

This week, the Water Council has gathered at the Pfister to discuss the water and its global impact during Water Summit 2015. To my mind that’s sort of like having a meeting to discuss the future of breathing. It’s elemental, it’s important, it’s necessary to daily life, and Summerfest would just be some dusty festival under the baking summer sun if it weren’t for the refreshing cool Great Lake breezes that pierce through the mass of humanity enjoying the world’s biggest music fest. You take away its fresh water setting on the shores of Lake Michigan, and Summerfest loses something basic, a sense of connection to the greater universe, an openness that really is defined by the eternal passageway of water. The beer is cold and nice, for sure, but water is where it’s at.

It is, for me, a great source of comfort that while revelers press against the starting gate to enter the Summerfest grounds, there are meetings happening at the Pfister in which visionary global business leaders, scientists and engineers are thinking about best uses for water and the communal impact of conservation, innovation, and sustainability practices. This is some high minded stuff happening as Water Summit 2015 brings together great minds from around the world to discuss, debate and challenge assumptions on the world’s relationship to water and how we humans use it.

I spoke to some very fine experts who seemed to be rushing from one discussion to the next as they dug into important ideas surrounding water, its sources, and its applications through all areas of life. I find myself wrapping up chats with these men and women by saying, “Thank you for the important work you’re doing.” Like typical engineers and scientists, the good souls discussing new ways to study and think about water seem to shyly shrug, not really wanting to bask in any sort compliment, but quickly wanting to delve back into work surrounding solutions to global water challenges.

In the midst of the ebb and flow of the Water Summit, I met some young people who are going to eventually shape and change our world, and I’m happy to know that they are smarter than smart and also poised and know how to clean up nicely. As part of Water Summit 2015, college and university students from around the globe are participating in a learning opportunity called, Wetskills. Wetskills is an international movement that allows students to work in four person teams to tackle water related challenges. Thomas, Jessica, Matthew, Ferris and Paul were snapping pictures in the lobby of the Pfister when I suggested I take a group shot of their posse. I also wanted to hear about the work they were doing as part of their two weeks of immersive learning and team building.

They explained that they were prepping for a pitch contest, a sort of Shark Tank kind of experience where all the innovative ideas presented had to do with solving some water related challenge. Paul gave me his pitch in under a minute…he and his team want to bring garbage disposals to the Netherlands, and he compactly told me that there are issues related to this that he and his team address in some creative ways.

Jessica told me that her team was working on supporting farmers and their water issues related to run off from growing cycles. She and her team have plans to help communities get engaged in the process of evaluating and monitoring run off levels by a series of simple and effective implementation tactics. I asked if any part of their plan involved giving locals surrounding farms rulers so they could measure the depth of water in ditches. Jessica was kind and smiled rather than slapping my face.

On the topic of Summerfest, I asked if the gang was going to be able to visit during their stay. They hedged a bit, mentioning that they hoped to have the time. But at the end of the day, they all seem to be fully underwater with work, and for now, that’s a really good thing.

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