Efforts hope to make region “Silicon Valley” of water-related business

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Efforts hope to make region “Silicon Valley” of water-related business

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Nick Daggy
The Great Miami River flows by the the former Beckett Paper Mill in Hamilton. This region, thanks in large part to an underground aquifer following the Great Miami River, has an abundant water source.

THREE WAYS THIS MATTERS TO YOU

1. Abundant local water sources keep costs down for customers

“I think that the cost increases if you have to transport large volumes of water across regional areas, and because our well infrastructure and the plant infrastructure is so close to the source, the cost stays down,” said Tim McLelland, manager of the Hamilton to New Baltimore Area Ground Water Consortium.

2. New water technologies will also impact the cost of individual and industrial water use, said Melinda Kruyer, executive director of Confluence Water Technology Innovation Cluster.

3. Economic development efforts to attract new businesses because of our local water resources, and to grow local businesses related to water, create new job opportunities.

THE BIGGEST WATER USERS

The following organizations pump the most water daily from the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer in Butler County:

1. Greater Cincinnati Water Works: approximately 16 million gallons a day

Single biggest customer: wholesale — Boone Florence Water Commission; retail — University of Cincinnati

*Water Works gets 12 percent of water from the aquifer, and the rest from the Ohio River

2. City of Hamilton Public Works Department: approximately 16 million gallons a day

Single biggest customer: wholesale — Butler County

3. Middletown Department of Public Works & Utilities: approximately 9 million gallons a day

4. Fairfield Department of Public Utilities: approximately 5.2 million gallons a day

Single biggest customer: Koch Foods

5. Southwest Regional Water District: approximately 3.5 million gallons a day

Single biggest customer: Hueston Woods Lodge & Conference Center

6. MillerCoors Trenton Brewery: 2.5 to 3 million gallons a day

7. Oxford: approximately 2.3 million gallons a day

8. Trenton: approximately 1.2 million gallons a day

SOURCES: Local government officials

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Southwest Ohio has the opposite problem of many parts of the country. This region, thanks to an underground aquifer following the Great Miami River and feeding into the Ohio River, has an abundant water source.

By 2025, it’s estimated two-thirds of the world will be “water-stressed.” Some people living in the southwestern United States already face water scarcity, or conditions are approaching water scarcity, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

However, water in this region is so abundant that economic development efforts are in place focused on promoting local water sources to attract new companies here, and building a base of local water-related businesses developing technologies for water conservation, quality and tracking water levels.

“We’re in a unique situation because we do have an adequate supply,” said Michele Ralston, spokeswoman for public water utility Greater Cincinnati Water Works.

“About 60 billion gallons of water flow past Cincinnati every day” in the Ohio River, and Cincinnati Water Works treats and distributes less than 1 percent of that for customers, Ralston said.

“It just puts into perspective of how much water we have here that other parts of the country don’t have,” she said.

Water sounds like it would be a good sell to food and beverage companies, and high-tech companies that need the water for cooling purposes. High water users in Butler County include poultry processor Koch Foods in Fairfield and the MillerCoors brewery in St. Clair Twp., according to local government officials.

Except no new companies have taken the bait.

Despite efforts for at least three years to attract companies for the water, not one new company has moved here solely for that reason, according to local economic development directors.

That’s because water scarcity hasn’t become a big enough problem in the U.S. yet, although it’s expected to be a bigger issue down the road, development experts say. Until then, water isn’t a good enough reason for a company to move alone, and assets like water supplies are among several factors that a company needing to expand or relocate would consider along with workforce talents, costs and other things, said Scott Koorndyk, chief operations officer of Dayton Development Coalition.

The coalition is an economic development agency coordinating business attraction and retention efforts in the Dayton-area, including parts of Butler and Warren counties.

“The presence of water is a factor in attracting businesses. Is it the only factor? No, but we also then bring to the bear our supply chain expertise, we bring to bear the cost advantages of doing business in southwest Ohio, the business environment in southwestern Ohio,” Koorndyk said.

“Water’s always been for us something that’s part of our overall attraction strategy,” Koorndyk said.

He cited water as one reason among others that the new Abbott Laboratories nutrition drink manufacturing plant opening north of Dayton was attracted to the region.

“If you look at water and the scarcity of water, all that really means at this point is higher costs for companies,” he said.

“Will there come a day when that water isn’t available, or the costs drive their business model so out of whack? I believe we will, but we’re in the early stages of that,” he said. “Right now it’s a cost question. At some point it will be a scarcity question.”

Recruiting companies for water is proving tough. But it’s still early, said Lance Barry, spokesman for Cincinnati USA Partnership for Economic Development, the agency heading development activities in the Tristate region. “As you know, attraction efforts take months and years,” Barry said in an email.

Hamilton has an abundance of quality water for business and residential use and “we have been able to respond to various prospects that have indicated a large water usage in their business process, but at this time, no business has located in Hamilton based solely on our water resources,” said Stacey Dietrich Dudas, Hamilton economic development specialist, in an email.

“At this time, I do not think water is so scarce in the U.S. that companies need to make site selection choices based solely on water availability,” Dudas said.

However, business attraction is just one piece of the pie. Efforts are also underway to grow local water-related companies, said Melinda Kruyer, executive director of Confluence Water Technology Innovation Cluster.

The nonprofit Confluence formed in 2011 to coordinate and promote business opportunities around water in Cincinnati and Dayton.

Existing Cincinnati-area companies such as Procter & Gamble Co. and MillerCoors, and a research center of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are examining and developing new water technologies, Kruyer said.

New start-ups have formed in the water business. For example, Covington start-up CitiLogics is testing sensors and gathering data to track leaky water pipes and water distribution flow, Kruyer said.

The Cincinnati region also has approved places for companies and agencies to test new technologies on water, Kruyer said.

“We’re creating a water technology innovative ecosystem,” Kruyer said. “This environment is conducive to developing and commercializing technology and delivering it.”

Confluence estimates the Cincinnati metropolitan’s water industry to be worth $2.1 billion today based on population, patents and the water technology market. That’s expected to grow by 6 percent to 8 percent a year, Kruyer said.

The goal is to make this part of the state a hot bed of water-related businesses, in the same way California’s Silicon Valley is a hot bed of technology-related businesses, she said.

“We have some of the top experts in the world” in water technology, she said. “We have the answers to what is now being recognized as the new oil, the new challenge…water.”

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