The Water Tower is a cutting-edge research and development campus in Buford that is working to solve some of the most pressing issues within the water industry.
Although The Water Tower launched in 2019, a recent celebration of the facility’s completion was held Wednesday, March 30, with a ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening.
“The Water Tower has already become a beacon of innovation for our community and the region,” Gwinnett Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson said in an announcement heralding the $33.7 million facility’s ribbon cutting. “In addition to enhancing our existing water systems, it will also contribute to the technological and educational advancements within the water industry as a whole.”
“It feels great seeing The Water Tower come to fruition, from site design to the ribbon cutting,” District 4 Commissioner Marlene Fosque said in the announcement. “The Water Tower is a physical representation of our commitment to meeting the pressing needs of residents and businesses while also being responsible stewards of the environment and our natural resources.”
The facility, which is at 2500 Clean Water Court in Buford, is formed from two nonprofit organizations — The Water Tower at Gwinnett is in charge of the campus development and daily operations, and The Water Tower Institute manages the solutions, instruction and engagement programs. The campus includes three classrooms, four conference rooms, multiple laboratories, co-working spaces, single-tenant office rentals, a field training center and a water treatment demonstration area.
“Through the combination of our physical campus and our network of partners and collaborators, The Water Tower aims to provide real-world solutions for water utilities,” said Kristan VandenHeuvel, director of applied research and engagement. “Water has become such a natural part of our daily lives that sometimes we take it for granted. We’re used to clean water coming out of our faucets and toilets flushing away waste, but oftentimes the general public doesn’t have an understanding of the people and resources involved.”
And therein lies one of the water industry’s greatest challenges. According to VandenHeuvel, between 30% and 50% of the water workforce is at or near retirement age, and there are an estimated 1,200 unfilled water related jobs in the metro Atlanta area.
“The water industry is currently facing a critical staffing shortage,” she said.
Because there are so many vacancies, many water utilities simply lack the manpower and resources to research, test and implement new technologies. Without organizations like The Water Tower, the development of new water treatment methods runs the risk of grinding to a halt.
Thankfully, in addition to its own research and development, The Water Tower is doing everything it can to raise awareness of the staffing problem and promote and facilitate entry into the world of water professions. The Water Tower plans to launch the Water Workforce for Resilient Communities, a program that will train water and wastewater operators.
“The program offers the unique opportunity to address the staffing shortage in the water industry while connecting underserved, unemployed individuals to essential careers and promoting community resilience through living wages and access to health benefits,” VandenHeuvel said.
She also believes the outreach and awareness initiative will better prepare the North Georgia region as a whole to handle any potential water crises and respond to future challenges within the industry.
The Water Tower also plans to host the first Water Innovation and Leadership Summit in September. This event will bring together high school students in the North Georgia area to educate and empower them toward a wide range of careers in the water sector.
In addition to the work it’s doing to better prepare the North Gwinnett area’s water service industries, The Water Tower has also brought in new businesses and job opportunities to its campus. Since its opening, two firms have joined the three-story Innovation Center facility — Wade Trim, a firm that provides wet weather and municipal infrastructure solutions for local communities, and Carollo Engineers, a water-focused engineering firm that offers a range of planning, design and construction management services to its clients.
The Water Tower will also attract water professionals from across the country with its inaugural event, Demo Day, which brings together the public, private and nonprofit sectors of water management to share, collaborate and demonstrate some of the newest and most groundbreaking technology and systems in the industry.
“Breaking down the traditional silos of the sectors and realizing that we’re all working towards a common goal is incredibly important to advancing the water industry, and we hope Demo Day can help facilitate those connections,” VandenHeuvel said.
The event will take place Friday, April 22, and more than 250 registrants from as far away as Arizona, California and Texas are set to attend.
VandenHeuvel encourages the North Gwinnett community to get further involved with The Water Tower by attending an event, visiting the campus for a tour and following The Water Tower on social media to stay up to date on the exciting developments that it’s pursuing in a critical industry.
Visit theh20tower.org for more information on The Water Tower.