How water stewardship benefits businesses by reducing water risks

Cress Consulting Pty Ltd

Saturday, 01 August, 2020

How water stewardship benefits businesses by reducing water risks

At a time when many businesses find themselves operating in water-stressed environments facing long-term reductions in water supply, or in an increasingly stringent compliance setting, it’s important to understand how the local water system works and to identify the specific risks and values in your water catchment.

Water is essential for the development and maintenance of successful economies and for preserving human health. Ensuring the ongoing availability of water as an essential resource means that water must be used responsibly and sustainably. Water is a renewable resource, circulating on the planet for many millions of years, but it becomes lost from the water cycle if it is polluted or extracted more quickly than it is replenished. Increasing pressure from population growth, economic activity, demand for food, rising living standards and climate change are affecting both the available quantity and quality of fresh water. Significant impacts of water scarcity are already evident around the world, affecting both the natural environment and vulnerable communities and industries.

The water catchment (or river basin) is a key component of the local water system, where water supply is obtained and wastewater discharged; however, the hydraulics of each catchment area vary considerably. Climate, population density, the level of agricultural or industrial development, and the types of governance and regulations will all significantly influence the issues and risks a business faces at specific locations. ‘Catchment A’ may experience water shortages due to prolonged drought or over extraction, whereas ‘Catchment B’ may suffer from frequent flash flooding, pollution and poor water infrastructure. Interbasin transfers and multiple water sources can add to the complexity.

Putting the principles of good water stewardship into action can help ensure water use for human and economic purposes is sustainable and doesn’t deplete freshwater resources or cause harm to the natural environment.

Using water stewardship as a foundation principle is different to other water management approaches because it takes the catchment context into account, making it applicable to any size business in any location, using any type of water source, including utility supplied.

To assist in applying this approach to industry, international organisation Alliance for Water Stewardship has developed an ISO equivalent standard focused on sustainable water management. One of the lowest cost, highest value exercises for organisations dependent upon water resources is to use the first step of the standard to improve understanding of the water risks present in the local catchment and to identify potential opportunities for improving the security and sustainability of their water supply.

The eight criteria components in this first step necessitate the gathering of data on water use to understand impacts on the catchment and to identify the shared water catchment values and challenges. Such an analysis provides 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. The following example outlines some of the potential benefits of such an approach:

AWS Standard Criteria Potential business benefits
Gather information to define the site’s physical scope While most businesses have physical site information, adding local catchment information is useful as it highlights the site’s reliance and impacts on the catchment, knowledge gaps and assumptions that could be a risk.
Understand relevant stakeholders, their water-related challenges and the site’s ability to influence beyond its boundaries This can be one of the most useful exercises under the AWS framework. Stakeholder mapping can identify previously unrecognised collaborations with otherwise unconnected groups or individuals.
Gather water-related data for the site, including a water balance and any nearby significant water environments such as marine conservation areas or wetlands Improving the understanding of the true cost of water and water-related services adds value to any organisation. Recognising important water environments close to the site can be a catalyst for collaboration to improve the sustainability of water in the catchment.
Gather data on the site’s indirect water use The value this provides is significant as it will identify where in the supply chain and production process water is consumed or impacted and where risk or opportunity might reside.
Gather water-related data for the catchment including water balance, water quality and infrastructure This information helps to identify important issues within the catchment, highlighting strengths and weakness.
Identify shared future water challenges in the catchment Many challenges will be shared with stakeholders; for example, maintaining adequate water supplies for industry and the community or preventing pollution of a natural waterway highly valued for recreation or ecological biodiversity.
Assess and prioritise the site’s water risks and opportunities Identifying options to manage risks and realise opportunities provides significant value.
Understand and define best practice in sustainable water management Best practice and benchmarking can help identify a roadmap of continuous improvement at site and broader catchment levels.

Using a water stewardship approach can help identify a pathway to longer term business sustainability. This means improving security of supply, identifying solutions to continuously improve, staying ahead of the compliance curve, or in the direst of circumstances identifying relocation options to ensure long-term business viability. Cress Consulting can help you undertake this assessment, putting you in a more powerful position to determine the next step in securing the future water supply for your operation or business.

Cress Consulting is a provider of sustainability services and an experienced water stewardship credentialed specialist offering consulting, training and auditing services.

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