David Garman of The Water Council and the School of Freshwater Sciences speaks at a panel on the energy-water nexus at WEFTEC.

Energy can’t be generated or extracted without water. Water can’t be treated without energy. And food can’t be grown or processed without water and energy.

The interconnections among these three domains were highlighted in a panel today at the Water Environment Federation’s Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC), where Wisconsin’s water technology sector is highlighted with a booth on the trade show floor, the Wisconsin Water Pavilion.

David Garman, chief technical officer for The Water Council and associate vice chancellor for water technology research at the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, presented about the Energy-Water Nexus Roadmap, a collaboration between The Water Council and the Mid-west Energy Research Consortium, also based in Milwaukee.

The initiative is bringing together water technology and energy companies across sector boundaries for more productive engagement and collaborative innovation to solve the challenges both sectors face.

The project is just getting started, with the recently published roadmap charting a path forward. The process of developing the roadmap brought together key companies in each sector to get involved in the process and work with one another, Garman said—and Wisconsin’s unique strength in both energy and water (as well as food processing) means it will be a key location for innovation at this nexus.

The panel also featured two beverage companies and two energy companies that were early to recognize the importance of the energy-water nexus.

Kim Marotta, global senior director of corporate responsibility with Molson Coors, described how the beer maker has worked to reduce its “beer print”—the environmental footprint of beer brewing.

Marotta described how water is involved with every part of the beer brewing process, starting with growing barley and hops.

She noted that Molson Coors has gone from using five barrels of water for each barrel of beer brewed, to its current average of 3.3 barrels of water per barrel of beer brewed. Its goal is to bring the company-wide average down to 2.8; some individual breweries have already hit numbers as low as 2.5, confirming that it is possible to bring the average down further, Marotta said.

Molson Coors also has a range of initiatives under way to conserve water use in agriculture, including everything from educating growers in conservation practices to planting vegetation that mitigates agricultural runoff and aids local farmers in the communities where the company’s facilities are located.

Paul Bowen, director of wastewater and environment and sustainability for Coca-Cola, spoke about the company’s sustainability achievements, including becoming the first Fortune 500 company to become water balanced—a distinction the company achieved through reducing its water consumption through efficiency improvements, then implementing water restoration initiatives (such as reforestation, rainwater catchments and wells) for the remaining amount of water used to produce the company’s beverages.

Mark Yin of the Shell Technology Center gave an overview of the water reclamation efforts under way at one major Shell plant, and Rowlan Greaves spoke about the conservation and remediation initiatives of Southwestern Energy, where he is manager of strategic solutions.

Southwestern Energy has committed to offsetting the full volume of freshwater used in its operations, thus making the company “freshwater neutral.”  It has also made a point of undertaking conservation projects in the communities where it extracts oil and gas. “It’s not easy being an oil and gas company” in terms of public opinion, Greaves said, but if you show that you care about sustainability and the communities you work in, “people pay attention.”

Lastly, Steve Gluck of BlueTech Research spoke about the market intelligence research group’s services, which help companies reduce their energy use, treat their process water more efficiently and effectively, and reduce water need and water waste, among other process improvements. The firm’s Blue Truffle ranking system scores companies on how well they’ve implemented best practices with regard to conservation and efficiency.

Panelists agreed that an urgent need exists to find innovative solutions to shortages of energy, water and food.

“Water is our main ingredient, and it is a natural resource that is under significant risk,” said Bowen.

“If we don’t have water, we don’t have a business,” added Marotta.

Check back at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Events Blog for more posts from WEFTEC 2017 this week.