In 2022, it seemed that every other week a new water crisis dominated the headlines. The scale and speed of escalation only intensified during the year.
Colorado River reservoirs fell to historic lows with no end in sight. Hurricane Ian caused more than $50 billion in damage to Florida, making it the costliest disaster since Katrina. A water plant failure left 170,000 residents of Jackson, Miss., without running water after heavy flooding and decades of infrastructure neglect.
We saw similar crises all over the world, from Pakistan to Portugal. The Netherlands, a low-lying country built around keeping excess water out, is now trying to conserve water in response to drought.
Of course, this is only a sampling of water challenges that now extend across the entire world. Climate change will usher more weather extremes in the coming years, leaving communities devastated by too much or too little water.
Yet I remain optimistic about our ability to address water challenges. At The Water Council, our staff works every day with innovative companies creating new water technology solutions and working together to implement them.
Companies like Tomorrow Water, which pilot tested its Proteus technology at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. The system – already successfully implemented by Tomorrow Water’s parent company in South Korea – can speed up primary filtration of wastewater from two hours to less than eight minutes, helping prevent wastewater overflows into freshwater basins like Lake Michigan.
Or Fixed Earth Innovations, whose technology remediates per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other destructive contaminants. After winning The Water Council’s Tech Challenge in 2020, this Canadian company partnered with ORIN Technologies, LLC of Verona, Wis., on a pilot project to remediate PFAS at a Wisconsin Air National Guard base in Madison.
But technology is just one side of the coin. We need corporations to do their part to preserve freshwater resources through better water stewardship.
For too many businesses, environmental sustainability starts and ends with reducing carbon emissions. While this is important, the quantity and quality of freshwater is just as vital to commerce – and life itself – as clean air. As 2022 has proved, it is also an issue that is confronting companies today as opposed to 10, 20 or 30 years in the future.
Improving water stewardship is not just the socially responsible thing to do but also crucial to risk mitigation, as any company that waited for supplies to wind down the drought-stricken Mississippi River or Rhine River this year learned too well.
Here too, I see leading companies making progress. This year, A. O. Smith Corporation and Watts Water Technologies became the first companies to be independently verified by SCS Global Services through our new WAVE: Water Stewardship Verified program, demonstrating their commitment to marrying enterprise-wide water stewardship goals with site-level action.
I’m encouraged to see water stewardship principles spreading across water-intensive industries, including food and beverage, automotive and petrochemical. For example, Toyota North America signed onto WAVE this year and co-led, with Ford Motor Company, an effort through Suppliers Partnership for the Environment to create water stewardship guidance for the automotive supply chain.
We’re even seeing interest from areas we didn’t consider as we created WAVE. For example, Marquette University became the first academic institution to join WAVE in 2022, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has expressed intent to join early in 2023. Marquette President Michael Lovell says a focus on water stewardship reflects the Jesuit value to “collaborate in the care of our common home.” UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone notes that WAVE “is aligned with our campus’ nationally recognized sustainability efforts and climate plans and consistent with sustainability research, teaching and engagement across the university.”
But water stewardship also appeals to today’s students, who have grown up under the shadow of climate change and environmental devastation. Those students are tomorrow’s workers and consumers, and they will value companies taking concrete steps to preserve freshwater resources.
Whatever the motivation – fiduciary or philanthropic – addressing water challenges is no longer optional for the business community. 2022 offered just a glimpse of the water crisis to come. Make sure you are part of the solution in 2023.
By Dean Amhaus, President & CEO, The Water Council