As companies develop
strategies to address water issues, they may encounter resistance
due to established water management practices, perceptions,
and policies at the global, national, regional, and local
level. At times, corporate culture, public policy, and/or
market forces may be strong enough to discourage pursuit of
more sustainable water management practices and strategies.
Yet, delaying may result in missed opportunities for market
leadership or environmental improvement, as well as difficulty
in pursuing more sustainable options later.
This section is intended to help tool users
anticipate and identify such obstacles and perceived obstacles.
It also offers tips and strategies for overcoming these challenges.
It is not always easy to see the benefits
of investing in sustainable water activities, especially in
the face of existing public policy disincentives. Taking a
leadership role in your company or sector may entail risks,
but you may reap important benefits by improving your relationships
with critical customers, such as government regulators, shareholders,
employees, community groups, or financial institutions.
Common Misperceptions about Water Management
The price of water does not always
justify conservation activities.
With low water prices, it can be difficult
to make a business case for investing in conservation projects.
In some cases, direct and hidden subsidies may be present
within or external to the business that mask the true costs
of water. These costs can often be surfaced to
give a more complete picture of water-related expenses at
a facility or company. The price of water is not likely to
be fixed (or may be fixed only for the short-term) and may
rise quickly or unexpectedly in the future.
- Conduct a water use audit (possibly in
conjunction with a local utility) to understand how much
water is being used, for what purposes, at your facility.
- Prioritize potential water saving activities.
Look for low hanging fruit, where a business
case is easy to make.
- Consider indirect costs associated with
water use, such as related maintenance of plant and equipment,
electricity required for pumping, etc., in cost/benefit
- Use increasing future water prices in
projections. Overall trends point to lower subsidies and/or
higher prices in the future.
- Calculate other environmental and social
costs of water use. Reducing water use may provide
other benefits to the company by supporting its license
to operate in the local community.
If I do not use all of my water allocation
this year, I will lose my water rights.
Water law in some regions of the U.S., and
in many other countries, promotes use or lose
policies for individual water rights holders. At times, using
less water may result in the loss of a valuable property right.
- Consider water bank programs that allow
saved water to be used for in-stream flow in many areas,
while preserving existing water rights.
- Consider leasing saved water.
- Consider selling water rights to government
agencies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for in-stream
flow, or as part of a conservation easement.
- Consider participating in programs that
allow trading of ecosystem services or water quality credits.
- Collaborate with other water users to
create a water conservation trust that can work with several
parties to develop efficiency incentives.
If I conserve now, my share will be
reduced further in times of drought or reallocation.
During drought or other periods of reduction,
water purveyors generally give no consideration for previous
conservation efforts. Companies may believe they would be
better prepared to respond to these events if they had maintained
high levels of water use.
- Negotiate upfront agreements with water
purveyors for assuring access to adequate quantities during
times of shortage in return for conservation measures.
- Evaluate a wide range of options, including
alternative source identification, in preparing drought
- Consider activities that reduce vulnerability
to supply disruptions.
If I reduce my water use, local utilities
will have to raise water rates to pay for system operations.
Because utilities generally set rates based
on water usage, the high fixed costs of local water systems
can create a disincentive for conservation. Conservation may
result in higher rates to users to meet fixed costs. For example,
after successfully encouraging conservation during a drought
in Seattle, Washington in 2001, the local utility announced
that it may need to increase water rates to recover lost revenue.
- Encourage local water purveyors to search
for solutions that will lower fixed costs without decreasing
capacity or water quality (i.e., investing in watershed
protection or demand reduction programs).
- Recognize that rate increases can result
from a variety of factors/influences.
- Recognize that conservation efforts may
still result in reduced total costs to the company despite
If I reduce my use or improve water
quality, there is no guarantee that the benefits will flow
to ecosystem restoration or other public purposes.
Public resource uses are often said to result
in the tragedy of the commons. The tragedy
is that sharing resources creates an incentive for individuals
to compete for and overuse, rather than conserve, those resources.
- Participate in watershed groups that
represent all landowners, managers, and users. Reach joint
agreements about watershed protection activities.
- Consider leading by example and challenging
others to contribute to watershed protection and water conservation
The public is not ready to accept
the use of recycled water.
There may still be low public understanding
of the potential health effects of water reuse and recycling
- Take an incremental approach. Build on
the success of other efforts. For example, many golf courses
are now using recycled water for landscaping. The public
seems to accept this use.
- Include local groups during the development
of ideas for water reuse or recycling.
- Provide public outreach and education
about use of recycled water.
- Use or develop certification systems
to provide product branding benefits.