Why you should question your use of water
Water issues in manufacturing, industrial processing, agriculture, food and beverage production and processing can include quality and quantity of water supply, wastewater treatment and disposal systems, water management costs, the long-term sustainability of water supply and management arrangements including social licence to operate issues. Reducing water risk could include water efficiency measures, improvements to water treatment, water reuse and recycling initiatives and other sustainable water management activities.
Water is essential for the development and maintenance of healthy and successful economies and for human health. Ensuring the ongoing availability of water as an essential resource means that water must be used responsibly and sustainably. So, how well do you understand your water use? How often do you question it?
Is water important to your operations? Do you understand your water risks? Do you have adequate supply at the right quality? How much does it cost to obtain, heat, cool, treat and discharge? Are you concerned about the impacts of drought or climate change on the security of your water supply? Do you have sustainable water management programs in place? Do you know where your water supply comes from and how sustainable it is? Are there other organisations that use large volumes of water in your catchment? Is there a risk of pollution from your site impacting the local environment? Do you know how much water is used in each part of your process? Could water use be reduced or used more efficiently? Have you done a detailed water audit or calculated a water balance? Is wastewater compliance an issue for your site? Do you understand the water footprint of your product? Are there any social licence issues associated with your water use or wastewater discharge? How do you compare to your peers? Do your plans to increase production require more water? Do you have a contingency plan if water supply is restricted or compromised in some way?
These questions could apply to any operation anywhere in the world.
Australia is the driest continent on earth, enduring long periods of drought and devastating floods. The changing climate is leading to further drying, less reliable rainfall, more frequent drought as well as more intense and damaging rainfall events. So how do we manage the risk of reducing water security while at the same time making sure there is enough water for other businesses, the community and the environment?
Water is a shared resource and best managed through a stewardship lens. Putting the principles of good water stewardship into action can help ensure that water use for human and economic purposes is sustainable, doesn’t deplete the water resource or cause harm to the natural environment. A robust water stewardship framework can help identify opportunities to improve water management for long-term economic, environmental and social prosperity.
The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) has established an open-source, robust, consistent and globally applicable framework that businesses can use to effectively and efficiently assess their water risks no matter what their location and meet their sustainability targets in relation to water.
Julia Seddon, CEO of Cress Consulting says, “If your operation uses significant volumes of water, undertaking a sustainable water risk review of your site and its catchment provides tangible business benefits.”
Just as a carbon footprint identifies hotspots of carbon intensity, a water footprint can highlight where inputs or processes may be subject to water supply risks especially where there is no reliable alternative supply. A catchment analysis can help identify risks within the operating and input supply catchments in terms of quantity and quality as well as environmental conditions and community uses.
It’s important to use a robust and consistent framework. The AWS Standard is an ISO equivalent focussed on sustainable water management. It provides a systematic methodology to analyse and identify current and future risks around sustainable water supply and outline actions to reduce risks or take advantage of opportunities to improve water security, reduce costs, increase efficiency or improve water management.
A gaps analysis against step 1 of the AWS standards is typically a low-cost-high-value exercise which will help improve understanding of site water management, the water risks present in the local catchment and identify potential opportunities for improving the security and sustainability of water supply. The analysis involves:
- Review of water-related information such as water sources, quality, records of use, metering data, monitoring data, water heating and cooling, collection, treatment and discharge systems, regulatory requirements, site and drainage plans, environmental management systems and relevant best practices or benchmarks.
- Conversations with key personnel and stakeholders to better understand operational risk, regional and community context.
- Preparation of a detailed site description that includes water-related data such as water sources, volumes consumed, costs, treatment processes and discharge criteria and a preliminary site water balance.
- Compiling information on the catchment including water resources, catchment characteristics and constraints, climate-related impacts, important or sensitive water environments and any management frameworks.
This provides tangible outcomes and useful information. Importantly, it gives a good indication of how sustainable an operation currently is and what actions could be taken to reduce risks, or take advantage of opportunities, to improve water security, reduce costs, increase efficiency or improve water governance.
This information is then being used to prioritise your water risks and identify options to manage them. It also goes a long way in answering the many questions you should be asking about water and its importance to your business.
Cress Consulting is a specialist provider of sustainability services and an experienced water stewardship credentialed specialist offering consulting, training and auditing services. Cress can help you determine the next step in securing the future water supply for your operation or business.
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