Wisconsin looks to Israel tech to solve water pollution woes

Wisconsin looks to Israel tech to solve water pollution woes

The Badger State's water council joins forces with Israel Innovation Authority to fund Israeli water technology startups

A lake in Wisconsin (jocrebbin, iStock by Getty Images)
A lake in Wisconsin (jocrebbin, iStock by Getty Images)

Wisconsin, a US state whose name evokes flowing rivers and abundant lakes, has an endemic water problem of nutrient pollution and is turning to Israeli startups to solve it.

Nutrient pollution is caused by agriculture, storm water, wastewater and fossil fuels, and is creating an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus in Wisconsin ’s water supplies, harming the economic viability of its freshwater lakes and drinking water, experts say.

Now, a partnership forged by Israel’s Start-up Nation Central has Wisconsin’s The Water Council and the Israel Innovation Authority working together to find new ways to solve the problem, which is common in many parts of the US.

“Israel has led the wave of innovation in water management across the world, and our companies are strategically positioned to solve problems in many areas,” said Lee Recht, manager of Strategic Partnerships at Start-Up Nation Central, in a phone interview.

Lee Recht, manager of Strategic Partnerships at Start-Up Nation Central with Dean Amhaus, president & CEO of The Water Council, left to right, visiting the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR) of the Ben Gurion University with a delegation in Nov. 2017 (Courtesy Ido Weisman)

Israel, a country with wide expanses of arid desert, has become a leader in such water management technologies as irrigation, wastewater treatment and desalination. Israeli startups are taking advantage of the existing expertise and resources to develop techniques that can be applied globally, said Recht.

Today, nearly 200 Israeli companies are focusing efforts in the water technology sector. In 2014-2017 a whopping $263 million in funding was raised by Israeli startups in the water-tech industry, $73 million of it in 2017 alone, according to data compiled by Startup Nation Central.   Nearly 50 percent of the companies that received funding were in the wastewater management sector.

In a formal request for proposals, The Water Council and Israel Innovation Authority have committed to provide nearly $2 million in funding to Israeli startups that are in late-stage development or have deployed their products or services and are interested in expanding their reach to North America.

“We see our partnership with the Israel Innovation Authority as less about addressing a problem and more of a great opportunity for both parties to find solutions for our wastewater treatment and to establish Milwaukee as the center for Israeli companies to set up their US operations,” said Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council, in an interview.

Illustrative image of a glass of water (pinkomelet, IStock by Getty Images)

Companies selected will have access to US water management infrastructure and facilities in the greater Milwaukee area, a network of more than 200 water technology firms including Johnson Controls. They will also gain local community connections from the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said Amhaus.

Israeli companies can prove and test their products and services in a “living lab” environment in North America, and find opportunities to scale through a network of diverse end-users across multiple settings, Amhaus said.

The program will choose and fund a small number of projects that will run over a 9-15 month period, with a maximum budget of $250,000 per project, and the costs will be shared between the company, the Israel Innovation Authority, and the Water Council.

Technological solutions that deal with the management of storm water, such as improving water runoff quality and quantity, sewer management, nutrient removal, energy production, plant cost reduction and other plant optimization technologies are being sought for beta testing at sites, said Kevin Shafer, executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, in an interview.

“We are interested in working with companies using sensor technology and AI and machine learning to solve water issues,” Shafer noted.

For the United States, the problem of nutrient pollution costs the economy nearly $2.2 billion each year from losses in diminished property values and recreational uses of water, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“The opportunity to solve the world’s water problems can be a huge financial and societal windfall for Israel,” said Seth Siegel, author of “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World.”

Israel is in a leading position in the water-tech industry, which could reach $10 to $15 billion globally within the next five years, said Siegel in a phone interview from New York.

Interested companies are invited to submit a proposal/application to The Israel Innovation Authority and The Water Council of Wisconsin by March 31.

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