We have a new face at Sweet Water! Dave Libert just joined our team last month as the Managing Director. Taylor Baseheart sat down with Dave last week and asked him a few questions.
Are you originally from the Milwaukee area?
DL: I am a “Wisconsinite” by birth, grew up in Green Bay and attended UW-Madison. From there, I had a chance to work in a few other places including in south Texas as part of the Teach for America Program. I lived in the Rio Grande Valley and then San Antonio, which has its own unique set of water issues. Then I lived out East for a bit and then came back to the Midwest, living in Chicago for 5 years. I finally came full circle back to Wisconsin by moving to Milwaukee nearly a decade ago. I really like Milwaukee because it has a lot of the stuff that larger cities have, but it also feels like a small place where people can really get to know each other and do big things--like the work that Sweet Water is doing.
How long have you been a board member with Sweet Water? And how did that opportunity come about?
DL: Nancy Frank and Linda Reid approached me in October of 2015 about joining the Sweet Water board. I have worked in education most of my career, but always had an interest in environmental issues. I remember doing a presentation in middle school on the depletion of the ozone layer. One of my projects here in Milwaukee was to help start a project-based elementary school-Milwaukee Environmental Sciences Academy (MESA).
My first interaction with Sweet Water was applying for a mini-grant for a water catchment system at MESA in collaboration with Reflo and the Fund for Lake Michigan. The idea was to capture stormwater from the roof and have it go through the science classroom via clear piping so students can see it travel down into the cistern in the school’s courtyard where it would be used to help grow vegetables in raised garden beds. We wanted to offer these types of opportunities to kids so they get a sense of how everything connects and why water is important.
Working with Sweet Water provides a good opportunity to engage in a different kind of education and outreach--one that still focuses on helping people understand the issues. I’m particularly interested in finding creative ways to inform people by having them take an engaged, active role in finding and implementing solutions. It certainly has been interesting to participate at the board level and have a global view of things and then join the staff to see firsthand the impact that Sweet Water is having through its many projects and partnerships.
So you’re pretty surprised after being a board member, joining the team and seeing all the moving parts that we are involved with?
DL: Yeah! Sweet Water is doing the important work of bringing people together to tell the stories and address the issues facing our waterways. Whether people live in an urban or rural area, work in the environmental field or not, there is something that we can all do to improve the water quality in the Milwaukee region. But we need to do it together. It’s been great to see that collaboration, or “collective impact,” has been a trend locally over the past couple years. Since it started in 2010, Sweet Water has focused on fostering this type of collaboration. People are looking for ways to partner and that is really what Sweet Water is all about.
How did this staff position come about? We are very excited to have you on the team!
DL: Looking back, I think the Managing Director role started with Sweet Water’s resource development committee. Our goal as a committee was to identify Sweet Water’s strengths, help our constituents see the value we provide and then provide ways for them to contribute towards our collective success in achieving water quality goals for Southeastern Wisconsin.
We were fortunate to have a great group of thinkers from the for-profit and nonprofit sectors to guide our committee work. The result was a membership strategy that we launched last year and have been refining ever since. Over time, we realized that Sweet Water’s strengths lie not just in convening groups to conduct watershed planning, but also to help make green infrastructure and other water quality-related projects become a reality.
As the number of these projects and partnerships have increased, so have Sweet Water’s needs to grow its internal capacity, and that’s where the Managing Director role originated. My focus will be on addressing the emerging operations and logistical needs of Sweet Water so that we can partner in these new ways and get our message out to a broader audience. I also look forward to continuing the resource development and strategic planning work that we’ve started with our board members.
Besides working with Sweet Water, what types of things outside of our organization makes you passionate about water? What issues inspired you to get involved?
DL: I grew up in Green Bay, WI so our family benefitted from being close to a large body of water. My dad purchased a cottage next to one that my grandfather owned in Door County on the Green Bay shoreline when I was young, so I have fond memories of fishing right off the shore with my brothers, catching quite a few yellow perch and the occasional sheepshead.
When I returned to Wisconsin, I realized that certain species like the yellow perch are facing significant challenges due to invasive species, water pollution and other human factors. My passion is to make sure that everyone, especially kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, are able to benefit from the types of great experiences on the water that I had. Milwaukee’s identity as a global freshwater hub provides an opportunity for us all to make this a reality.
On to a more generic question, what is your favorite thing to do when you are not at work?
DL: I am a big fan of music as well as being active and outdoors. I have friends in Madison and Chicago and family in Green Bay so I travel around the region quite a bit. Usually we hit the frisbee golf course or catch a local band. I just went up to the Eaux Claires music festival this summer which was really fun, especially given its scenic location in the middle of the woods next to the Chippewa River.
Milwaukee has been a fun place to live. Since moving here I have seen aspects of the city grow incredibly. I live on the east side so I have seen a lot of new development in the form of restaurants, apartments and the like. I think people -- especially young professionals -- like having the opportunity to be a part of a growing city.
My hope is that this growth of our city continues to reflect our identity as a global freshwater leader. For that to be the case, I think that a visitor to our city should immediately sense a difference in our built environment and through their conversations with local residents, who know and care about water quality. There have already been quite a few positive steps in this direction and, through initiatives like “Respect Our Waters” media campaign, I look forward to working with Sweet Water and our partners to achieve even more!