Annual UW water symposium shifts online, highlights Wisconsin's water challenges

By Yvonne Kim, The Capital Times


The fifth annual Water@UW-Madison symposium will take place virtually Tuesday, highlighting water challenges at the university and state levels.

More than 200 people are expected to attend the Zoom video conference, titled “Working Together to Address Water Challenges – UW-Madison and State Government.” The symposium, lasting from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., will also be streamed on YouTube.

David Koser, a project assistant for the event, said this year’s theme will highlight UW-Madison’s “top-notch work” with the state government to address issues such as flooding or PFAS contamination in drinking water.

“All the county conservationists use research published, conducted or monitored by the university to help local farmers. Municipal guidelines are developed by modeling at the university,” Koser said. “There’s tons of partnership and collaboration going on, and I think it’s important to highlight that.”

The event will open with remarks from Chancellor Rebeca Blank, a video by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and a Q&A with Reps. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, and Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.

Researchers, legislators and state officials will then hold discussions across five sessions: drinking water, PFAS, human health, agriculture and built environment. Though the event was planned before the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental biogeochemistry professor Matt Ginder-Vogel said in a news release that clean drinking water and waterways are especially urgent topics now.

“You can’t wash your hands if you don’t have water,” Ginder-Vogel said in the release. “Often you only think of water as something you drink, but it’s such an essential part of cleaning and so many aspects of our everyday life. Of all our essential services, water supply and water treatment might be the most critical.”

When the pandemic made an in-person symposium impossible, the team considered postponing it to fall or cancelling altogether. But seeing the Wisconsin Lakes and Rivers Convention do an “incredible job” transitioning online in early April, Koser said they decided to follow suit.

Ginder-Vogel added in the release that an online symposium has had added benefits, allowing speakers and attendees to take part remotely from greater distances. Registration remains open online until Tuesday.

“This is going to be a fabulous event, and I look forward to having it go on,” Koser said. “It’s a lot of fun and really challenging to completely shift in the format.”