Editor's Letter: Accelerating the Opportunity for Innovation
Water clusters, or technology incubators as they are often called, are attracting a lot of attention in our industry — and for good reason. These regional networks of entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers, regulators, and investors are uniting stakeholders around a common goal: solving water problems.
"When we think about these water problems, there's always an opportunity there to bring innovative solutions," said Sally Gutierrez, director of EPA's Cluster Development and Support Program. "And that's really the mission of the Clusters Program: how can we address water issues and create economic opportunity at the same time?"
Traditionally, this hasn't been easy. Understandably, water and wastewater utilities don't like to take chances with public health so the prospect of implementing a shiny new technology -- especially one without decades of experience in the field -- is daunting.
That's not the only barrier, though. There are regulatory issues, trade restrictions, and procurement practices that can quickly stifle promising new technologies.
The power of the cluster model, Gutierrez suggested, is that it's "creating an environment to innovate and it's creating this ability that -- whatever the need is, whatever the barrier is -- there is a forum to address it." And, as a driving force behind the development of the Confluence water cluster in the Ohio River Valley region, she knows what she's talking about. (Read more about Confluence on page 18.)
But all the technology development and innovation in the world is for naught without one crucial component: the water utility. "The utilities offer the insight into what technologies they need, what problems they need to have addressed," she said. "It is a very, very powerful position in these clusters, since they are the end users, the ultimate adopters…they have a very central role in the cluster organization."
I asked Ms. Gutierrez if she had any advice for a water utility wanting to get involved with a water technology acceleration program. "The sooner you can come to the table, the better!" she said. "We've seen utilities come to the table, articulate their needs for innovation, and pilot test these early stage products -- and it's an enormously, enormously important role, so jump in!"
To watch the full video interview with Sally Gutierrez, visit waterworld.com/video/video-interviews/water-tech.html.
Chief Editor, WaterWorld