Unlike a fine wine, our nation’s infrastructure is not improving with age! This is made perfectly clear by a recent American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE ) report  that issued grades of D- for both our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructures . I don’t know about you, but if I brought home a grade of D- when I was going to school, that was the same as an F as far as my parents were concerned. Not only that, but a D- meant that I had better get my act together and focus on my studies or I would be in big trouble. Unfortunately, the D- grade from ASCE doesn’t seem to be having the same effect with regard to federal funding for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. In fact, a follow-up report by ASCE  released in 2011 indicates that these near failing grades are further threatened by a significant funding gap of $54 billion in 2010, which is projected to grow to a gap of over $84 billion by 2020.
Failing local infrastructures with a lack of federal funding means that local governments will need to foot more of the bill just to keep its systems running at a D- grade. Municipalities and purveyors will be looking to residential users to front a portion of the bill, but you can pretty much bet that they will be looking to the industrial users to pay a majority of the bill.
Water and wastewater are very complicated issues that involve entire regions, complicated rate structures, conservation, capital improvements, water rights, and water fights. Not to mention that the general public has a lack of appreciation for the most valuable and essential commodity on the face of the earth.
The issue of rising water and wastewater rates is just beginning. It behooves all industrial users of water to implement a water policy and aggressive water conservation practices to stay ahead of this issue. The less you and your supply chain rely on the public water and wastewater infrastructure, the more resilient your manufacturing operations will be.
 “2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure”, ASCE, 2009.
 “Failure to Act, The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends I Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure”, ASCE, 2011
As we mentioned in our previous blog, water is both a local and global issue and must become a major priority in any sustainable organization. The water scarcity issue is addressed in The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which concentrates on reversing poverty, hunger, and disease internationally. Goal 7 of the MDG aims to “Ensure Environmental Sustainability” and includes a specific target to “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” The UN states that this target will not be met.
In a recent news article from the American Geophysical Union, the President of the Pacific Institute, Peter Gleick, addresses the status of the world’s water. Regarding falling short on the MDG for water, Gleik blames a lack of priority, not technology. He suggests an integrated approach for water issues, similar to energy and climate change issues. To accomplish this, it is necessary to understand “where the water is and where the water goes.”
A joint mission between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, entitled the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), involves two satellites that have been taking monthly images of groundwater since 2002. In ScienceNews (January 2012), Leonard Konikow stated, “There are too many areas in the world where groundwater development far exceeds a sustainable level. Something will have to change.” That change can begin with corporate water footprinting, and identifying the water stressed areas both up and down the supply chain.
Water scarcity represents an ever growing risk to businesses in all sectors across the globe. Business related water risk can be categorized into three areas: Physical, Regulatory, and Reputational.
Physical risk refers to the direct limitation of business activities, supply of raw materials, and product use. Declines or disruptions in water supply can affect production, irrigation, material processing, cooling, and cleaning. Reputational Risk deals with competition for water supply (especially in water-strained areas), and can lead to community or local unrest regarding water withdrawal.
Regulatory Risk is directly caused by a combination of water scarcity and concern in local communities, and often forces local authorities to take action by allocating water, increasing prices, setting permitting standards, and developing rigorous wastewater quality standards.
The CDP Water Disclosure Global Report 2011 highlights some key statistics regarding water and the Global 500:
- 59% of respondents cited water as a substantial risk to the company, while water-related risk has already impacted
1/3 of the reporting businesses.
- 63% of respondents identified opportunities including cost reductions and increased water efficiency, revenue from new water-related products or services, and improved brand value.
- Less than 50% of respondents identified water policy as a board level issue, indicating that water is receiving less attention than climate change and energy conservation.
Large companies throughout the world are aware of various water related risks, and recognize that there is opportunity for improvement, but water scarcity is still not receiving the attention it deserves. Corporate water footprinting can be an appropriate step in identifying these risks and opportunities to mitigate potential problems surrounding this limited resource.
our blog next week as we discuss corporate water footprinting and sustainability.
Water is a scarce natural resource, often misunderstood and undervalued. As we have come to recognize the dangers associated with climate change and energy security, the availability of water also concerns individuals, communities, and businesses on a global scale. The unsustainable rates of carbon emissions and water consumption are directly linked to population growth and industrial activity. However, water supply is also threatened by climate change as precipitation patterns and water availability change.
While many companies voluntarily report on carbon emissions and energy usage, measuring and reporting water usage across the supply chain (corporate water footprinting) can be more difficult. Water has effects both locally and globally – extraction and usage greatly depend on the source and the geographic location. It is important for businesses to understand potential threats and opportunities specific to water usage.
The Carbon Disclosure Project touts the importance of corporate water footprinting for many reasons: to highlight areas of risk and opportunity for businesses; to develop standard measurements and assessments; to provide transparency; to raise awareness about water concerns; and to ultimately encourage action and dialogue.
Each week, we will post a related blog to this site to inform our readers about important sustainability topics. Next week our blog will focus on the business related aspects of corporate water footprinting. To subscribe, please enter your email address into the “email subscription” box on the right. You will be notified by email as new posts are made to the site.
For more information, please contact Wayne Bates at 508.970.0033 ext. 121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.