Sustainable Water Management and Water Positivity
The global water situation is already being severely exacerbated by climate change, which is causing droughts to last longer and intensify floods. The worst effects of the climate crisis will be felt through water in various ways. These effects will only get worse over the next few years and decades if immediate action is not taken. Therefore sustainable water management.
Many countries have made commitments to become carbon neutral in the not-too-distant future in the fight against climate change. China aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Uruguay intends to accomplish it by 2030. Austria by 2040, and the United Kingdom and most of Europe by 2050. A country must have zero net carbon dioxide emissions to be considered carbon neutral. This can be done by completely eliminating emissions or by removing the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they add to it.
The theory behind water positive is similar but goes much further because it deals with water rather than toxic gases. Companies produce more water than they consume rather than merely replacing the water that is being removed from the environment.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee recently issued a warning that if more was not done to safeguard supplies and mend leaking pipelines, which were losing three billion litres of water daily, the United Kingdom might run out of water by 2040.
The more that everyone can do to help protect and recycle water, the better, as population expansion and extreme weather events are projected to have an increasingly greater impact on the world’s water reserves over the next years.
What is sustainable water management or water sustainability?
Sustainable water management also referred as water sustainability, is the practice of using water resources in a way that meets current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It involves the careful planning, protection, and management of water resources to ensure their availability and quality for a wide range of uses, including drinking, agriculture, industry, and the environment.
Sustainable water management requires the integration of economic, social, and environmental considerations in the planning and management of water resources. It also involves the use of a variety of tools and approaches, including water conservation and efficiency measures, the use of advanced technologies and practices, and the development of policies and regulations to protect water resources and promote their sustainable use.
Table of contents
- What is sustainable water management or water sustainability?
- What is water positivity?
- Why is sustainable water management important?
- SDG 6 and water
- How can water be managed sustainably?
- Companies going water positive examples
- European policies on water
- How to go water positive?
What is water positivity?
Water positivity is a term that refers to the idea of using water resources in a way that not only meets current needs but also generates positive outcomes for people and the environment. It involves the careful planning, protection, and management of water resources to ensure their availability and quality, while also maximizing the benefits that they provide.
Water positivity involves taking a holistic approach to water management that recognizes the interconnectedness of water and other natural resources, as well as the social, economic, and environmental factors that impact water availability and use.
Why is sustainable water management important?
Sustainable water management is important because water is a vital resource that is essential for life, and its availability and quality are increasingly under threat due to a variety of factors such as population growth, urbanization, climate change, and pollution. By adopting sustainable water management practices, we can ensure that we have sufficient water resources to meet the needs of present and future generations while protecting the health of our ecosystems and communities.
There are several reasons why sustainable water management is important:
Water is a finite resource
Water is a limited resource, and it is essential that we use it wisely and efficiently to ensure its availability for future generations.
Essential for human health
Water is necessary for human survival, and access to clean water is essential for good health.
Water is essential for agriculture
Sustainable water management practices are essential for ensuring the long-term productivity of agricultural lands and water is one of the most basic requirements for growing crops.
Water is essential for the industry
It is used in a wide range of industrial processes, and sustainable water management practices are essential for ensuring the long-term viability of these industries.
Water is essential for the environment
Water is essential for the health and survival of ecosystems, and sustainable water management practices are essential for protecting these ecosystems and the services they provide.
SDG 6 and water
SDG 6, or Sustainable Development Goal 6, is specifically focused on water and sanitation. It aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
The specific targets of SDG 6 include:
- Target 6.1: By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
- Target 6.2: By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
- Target 6.3: By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
- Target 6.4: By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.
- Target 6.5: By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate.
- Target 6.6: By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.
- Target 6.a: By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies.
- Target 6.b: Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.
How can water be managed sustainably?
There are several ways to manage water sustainably:
Increase water efficiency
Implementing water-efficient technologies and practices, such as drip irrigation and low-flow plumbing fixtures, can help reduce the amount of water used while still meeting the needs of households, agriculture, and industry.
Protect and restore water sources
Protecting and restoring water sources, such as lakes, rivers, and aquifers, can help ensure the long-term availability of clean water. This can involve measures such as erosion control, reforestation, and the restoration of natural habitats.
Improve water treatment and reuse
Improving water treatment and reuse can help reduce the demand for fresh water and protect water sources from pollution. This can involve advanced wastewater treatment technologies and the reuse of treated wastewater for non-potable purposes such as irrigation.
Implement integrated water resources management
Integrated water resources management involves the coordinated planning and management of water resources to ensure their sustainable use. It can involve the development of policies and regulations, the participation of local communities, and the use of advanced technologies and practices.
Promote water conservation
Encouraging water conservation and raising awareness about the importance of water sustainability can help reduce water use and protect water sources. This can involve educational campaigns, incentives for water-efficient practices, and the adoption of water pricing structures that reflect the true cost of water.
Companies going water positive
Beyond cautionary alarms, however, many companies and organisations are committing to becoming water positive. Here are a couple of examples to seek inspiration from.
When operating in locations with significant water stress, Facebook has been investing in water restoration projects since 2017. By 2030, the company plans to achieve water positivity. You might be shocked by the amount of water an internet business uses, but with such a large global presence, it needs offices to house thousands of staff as well as data centres that need a lot of water to cool the servers. Facebook currently recycles water, plants low-water-use plants, and uses renewable energy sources which require less water than fossil fuels. Additionally, it participates in water restoration initiatives around the US.
Virgin is making significant investments in the software platform Waterplan, which will assist businesses in measuring, responding to, reporting, and monitoring their evolving water risk. Waterplane will continuously analyse watersheds and water availability in the areas where a corporation is based using satellite pictures, hydrologic models, and climate models. Both the financial expenses and suggestions for lowering water risk will be included.
Five times as much would be spent on water security if nothing were done.
The platform is intended to assist businesses in conserving watersheds, reducing pollution discharges, and saving money by demonstrating the business case for managing water risk.
Microsoft becoming water positive
President Brad Smith laid out the tech mega giant’s approach: “We’re tackling our water consumption in two ways: reducing our water use intensity – or the water we use per megawatt of energy used for our operations – and replenishing water in the water-stressed regions we operate. This means that by 2030 Microsoft will replenish more water than it consumes on a global basis.”
The use of adiabatic cooling, which uses air rather than water to cool objects, as well as the recycling of grey water and rainfall are among the measures that are planned. They also intend to install solar electricity at all of its locations, which will reportedly save 350 million litres of water annually.
In Israel, Microsoft is already using water collected by air conditioning units at a centre in Herzliya to water plants. They plan on lessening their environmental impact by switching from conventional air conditioners to swamp cooling in a new data centre in Arizona for the majority of the year. And at the company’s Silicon Valley location, non-potable water will be entirely recovered from sources like rainwater and processed wastewater, saving approximately 19 million litres annually.
Pepsi wants to rank among the world’s most water-efficient food and beverage industries by implementing water-saving measures. In order to achieve its aim of becoming “net water positive,” Pepsi must restore more than 100% of the water it uses in high-risk local watersheds.
For watersheds to better absorb rainwater, this replenishment strategy entails restoration activities like reforestation or the removal of invasive plants. It also entails purchasing and protecting water rights in places with significant water stress. By 2030, Pepsi’s water usage might be cut by up to 50% thanks to its effective use of water. Further, as part of its commitment, the Pepsi Co Foundation has already launched a $1m partnership with WaterAid to bring safe water to families in Sub-Saharan Africa.
European policies on water
The European Union (EU) has a number of policies and initiatives in place to promote sustainable water management and protect water resources. Some of the main EU policies and initiatives related to water include:
The Water Framework Directive (WFD)
The WFD is a key piece of EU legislation that sets out a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters, and groundwater. It aims to ensure that all EU waters are protected and restored to good ecological and chemical status by 2015, and that the quality of all EU waters is maintained or improved thereafter.
The Floods Directive
The Floods Directive aims to reduce the risk of flooding in the EU and to protect human health, the environment, and cultural heritage from the impacts of floods. It requires member states to identify flood-prone areas and to take measures to reduce the risk of flooding. Furthermore, it includes the development of flood risk maps and flood risk management plans.
The Nitrates Directive
The Nitrates Directive aims to reduce the risk of water pollution from agricultural sources. It requires member states to establish action programs to reduce the levels of nitrogen in water, and to designate nitrate-vulnerable zones (NVZs) where agricultural activities are restricted in order to protect water quality.
The Water Scarcity and Droughts Directive
The Water Scarcity and Droughts Directive aims to ensure that member states have adequate measures in place to manage water scarcity and droughts. It includes early warning systems, drought management plans, and measures to promote water efficiency.
The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive
The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requires member states to ensure that urban wastewater is properly collected and treated, in order to protect water resources from pollution. It also requires member states to identify sensitive areas where additional protection is needed and to take measures to protect these areas from pollution.
How to go water positive?
What differentiates water positive from just saving water is the focus on areas where water security is a problem and overcompensating for consumption in those places. The water goal also aligns with the broader picture of going net-zero in terms of all greenhouse emissions and complete carbon neutrality.
If your CSR drives towards a greener, more accountable business, but the costs of implementing measures seem to outweigh the outcome, book a consultation with an environmental consultant about implementing ISO 14046. The framework provides principles, requirements and guidelines for conducting and reporting a water footprint assessment as a stand-alone assessment, or as part of a more comprehensive environmental assessment if merged with goals under ISO 140001. Read more about understanding these EMS in my previous blogs. Maintaining water efficiency along with mitigating costs is how a completely rounded solution will have a two-benefit outcome for your business and the planet.