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Tacoma could be leader in clean-water technology

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Aug. 24, 2011 at 9:08 am |
August 24, 2011 9:08 am

This editorial appears in Wednesday’s print edition.

There shouldn’t be any doubt whether Tacoma should pursue an “Innovation Partnership Zone” designation for a piece of land on the east Foss Waterway.

That designation would give added impetus to what the city and its boosters have wanted all along for that area: to use the Center for Urban Waters as a magnet for businesses focused on green technologies – specifically ones dealing with clean water.

The city’s application meets most of the state’s requirements for an IPZ. For instance, it has room to accommodate growth and would provide a focused area for research. What it lacks is a globally competitive firm to partner with – but that is not considered to be a deal-breaker if the city can show that it’s likely to find such a company.

Since 2007, IPZ designations have gone to Seattle for its South Lake Union high-tech hub, to Everett for an aerospace research zone and to the Tri-Cities for a biofuels research district. The state also used to pony up as much as $1 million to communities earning an IPZ designation, but the state’s ailing finances put an end to that – at least for now.

Even without the money, the designation has value – for marketing purposes if nothing else. It would help the city make the case to entrepreneurs focused on clean-water technology that they could take advantage of the synergy created by locating near a research center like Urban Waters. The center’s tenants include the city, the University of Washington Tacoma and the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency coordinating efforts to restore and protect Puget Sound.

With both world population and droughts climbing, governments will be increasingly pressed to provide clean water. This is World Water Week, and 2,500 experts from 130 countries are gathered in Stockholm to talk about the global challenge. Keynote speaker Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s minister for International Development Cooperation, noted that poor water quality is a major cause of children and maternal mortality.

Carlsson also said, “More than ever we need new technologies and policy solutions to compensate for water shortages hitting a growing number of the world’s inhabitants.”

Tacoma has the potential to be a leader in helping solve the world’s water problems. Its proposed IPZ is smack in the middle of what was a Superfund site polluted by decades of heavy industry before the city spent millions of dollars cleaning it up.

It would be ironic, but entirely appropriate, if this site were to become a focal point for the emerging clean-water technology that could help save other blighted waters – and many lives.

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