Kristan VandenHeuvel

Based in Buford, Georgia, The Water Tower, a new water innovation hub, has released its Lake Lanier Watershed Five-Year Research Plan, with the goal to protect and improve a critical water supply for North Georgia and Metro Atlanta. Overall, the plan provides a multi-year roadmap of project concepts aimed to improve and protect the watershed. Kristan VandenHeuvel, The Water Tower’s strategic director of research and engagement, recently stopped by MPT’s podcast to share more details.

MPT: Where did the idea for The Water Tower originate and what need is it looking to serve?

Kristan VandenHeuvel: The Water Tower is a new nonprofit organization, and we were born out of Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources. How it came to be is that our CEO, Melissa Meeker, and the previous and current director of Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources sat down and really looked at the challenges that utilities in the Southeast are facing today—everything from aging infrastructure, increased costs, water volatility—all of these different types of challenges. 

What they realized what we needed was a holistic water management approach. So the answer to that was developed to develop a nonprofit organization, The Water Tower, that can bring together all these different types of organizations and stakeholders under one roof, with the right people and the right resources to provide an ecosystem of innovation for the benefit of the water industry. 

Our mission at The Water Tower is to be a thriving ecosystem of water innovation, fueled by imagination, informed by research, and powered by pioneers. We’re doing this through building a physical campus and a community of organizations, focused on our four key pillars. Those are applied research, technology innovation, workforce development, and community engagement. And the ultimate vision for The Water Tower is to be the go-to organization for all things water innovation, and especially helping small to medium utilities become more progressive, attract new workers, and become the leading edge of research and innovation.

MPT: Why is the Lake Lanier Watershed so important to the region? What dangers could occur if it’s not protected?

Kristan VandenHeuvel: In our region, Lake Lanier is used for everything from power generation, drinking water, navigation, recreation, fisheries, agriculture, pretty much everything you can think of. It’s very important for this region, and communities around the lake rely on it for both discharge of treated wastewater and their water supply, which is called indirect potable reuse, and also known as potable reuse through reservoir augmentation. And because of this, Lake Lanier is such a critical resource, and it really requires careful planning and monitoring and protection.

However, organizations were often working in silos. There are multiple different organizations doing work on the lake. But there wasn’t a centralized coordinated effort to really communicate between the organizations. 

With support from the Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources, which helped fund the formation of this plan, the development process, we identified the need for a coordinated multiyear plan that would benefit all those stakeholders in the Lake Lanier Watershed, and really helped the area for generations to come.

To listen to an extended version of this interview, be sure to subscribe to MPT’s podcast, The Efficiency Point.

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