August 12, 2020

August 12, 2020 – Milwaukee, WI – Today, the US Water Alliance and Milwaukee leaders representing local utilities, nonprofits, and philanthropy released An Equitable Water Future: Milwaukee. This is the first-ever report on strategies to build water workforce equity in Milwaukee and will guide the water community to better reflect the diversity of its citizens. The report is available online here.

An Equitable Water Future: Milwaukee was collaboratively developed by the Milwaukee Water Equity Taskforce, including leaders from Milwaukee Water Commons; Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District; Milwaukee Water Works; Cream City Conservation Corps; Century City Triangle Neighborhood Association; Employ Milwaukee; Greater Milwaukee Foundation; Groundwork Milwaukee; Milwaukee Area Technical College; Milwaukee County Register of Deeds; and Milwaukee JobsWork.

Though Milwaukee positions itself as a water-centric city, its water workforce does not reflect the diversity of its population. Building a more equitable water workforce requires understanding and addressing the barriers to entry, particularly for people living in historically underserved communities. Segregation, rising income inequality, workplace culture challenges, and inadequate access to transportation, education, and training are among the factors that limit many Milwaukee residents’ ability to participate in the water workforce.

To address these barriers, the report recommends specific actions in three categories: strengthening collaboration within the local water sector; building awareness of water careers; and changing workforce and procurement policies and practices to make them more equitable. These recommendations are informed by two Milwaukee Water Equity Taskforce efforts. The first was a series of community focus groups to explore workforce challenges experienced by people in Milwaukee’s historically underserved neighborhoods. The second was an in-depth study, “Water Needs Assessment: Pathways to Employment in a Water-Centric City,” which Milwaukee Water Commons contracted with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development to produce.

“In this time of great change, we see a unique opportunity to take action to expand local employment in Milwaukee’s water sector. Collaboration is key, and we’re grateful for the dedication of our Taskforce team members over the past two years on this project,” said Brenda Coley, Co-Executive Director of Milwaukee Water Commons. Co-Director Kirsten Shead stated “We now have a clearer picture of how we can work together toward an equitable water workforce. It won’t be easy, but we’re energized about the possibilities.”

“This has been a great learning process for us,” said Kevin Shafer, Executive Director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. “We know that as a utility, we’re in a unique position to advance water workforce equity. And we’re already partnering to push some of the recommendations forward, like launching a Fresh Coast Ambassador program to get more young adults ready to enter the water workforce. There is more we can do, and we’re committed to keep moving the needle.”

Karen Dettmer, Superintendent of Milwaukee Water Works, added “We all now have a deeper understanding of the challenges to workforce diversity and a shared vision for how to overcome them. At Water Works, we are deepening our relationships with community and workforce partners, expanding our youth apprenticeship and internship programs, and strengthening outreach to future potential employees—from grade school through colleges and universities.”

“While the challenges that Milwaukee’s communities face are significant, we believe the Taskforce has set forth important steps toward building a more diverse water workforce,” said Radhika Fox, CEO of the US Water Alliance. “Working for greater social equity has widespread benefits beyond water systems—it also helps to grow local economies. I applaud the Milwaukee Water Equity Taskforce for their leadership in working to make Milwaukee a true water-centric city in a way that has meaning for its residents.”

This report is part of the Water Equity Taskforce, a network of cities convened by the US Water Alliance that work together to develop more equitable water policies and practices. The Taskforce includes cross-sector teams in the cities of Atlanta, Buffalo, Camden, Cleveland, Louisville, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh.

For more information on the Water Equity Taskforce project, visit


US Water Alliance advances policies and programs to secure a sustainable water future for all. Established in 2008, the Alliance is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that educates the nation on the true value of water, accelerates the adoption of one water policies and programs, and celebrates innovation in water management. The Alliance brings together diverse interests to identify and advance common-ground, achievable solutions to our nation’s most pressing water challenges. Our membership includes water providers, public officials, business leaders, environmental organizations, community leaders, policy organizations, and more. Follow the US Water Alliance on Twitter and on LinkedIn.