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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • Watershed Context & Water Stewardship Goals: Why Thinking Local is Critical to Hedging Global Corporate Water Risk

    By Morgan Campbell

     

    What do the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, destructive monsoon flooding in Mumbai, India, Hurricane Harvey’s devastating storm surges in Texas, the recent five-year California drought, and the hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico all have in common? They are all water risk events. Although they are characterized by differences in geography, they show water risks faced today are as diverse as the world’s topography and precipitation patterns. And while global pollutants, such as carbon or chlorofluorocarbons, can be addressed by global reduction initiatives, the inherently local nature of water risk requires that we weave together localized solutions to protect the future sustainability of water resources.

    With global climate change increasing the magnitude and frequency of extreme water events, both the public and private sectors face water-related uncertainty. In the last ten years, the global business community has become increasingly aware of the role it plays in protecting water resources. Since 2007, over 140 companies have demonstrated their commitment to reducing water risk via water stewardship by endorsing the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, for which the Pacific Institute is the co-secretariat. Endorsing companies are required to disclose an annual Communication on Progress (COP) document, publicly describing their water stewardship goals and progress towards those goals. Through a progress on water metrics and targets, companies can reduce their physical, regulatory, and reputational water risk, effectively protecting supply chain viability, brand reputation, and permission to operate.

    “In the hypothetical case study, water stress threatened operations by requiring dependence on an unreliable source of imported and brackish groundwater.”

    The business community’s collective recognition of the value of water stewardship metrics and targets is a critical first step. Additionally, defining a new, more impactful generation of metrics and developing an approach to set meaningful targets — based on the local context and guided by the best available science — would help ensure long-term business growth in the face of increased competition and depletion of water. The concept of context-based water targets (CBWTs) was born in an effort to develop a common approach for companies operating in a variety of geographies to align their water stewardship efforts towards long-term risk mitigation. Developed by CDP, CEO Water Mandate, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the World Resources Institute (WRI), WWF, and UNEP-DHI, the initial CBWT report emphasizes that metrics and targets should be informed by the best available science on hydro-ecological conditions at the basin level, informed by contextual social needs, and aligned with local to global public policy objectives.

    A concept map of the evolution from initial contextual water targets to context-based water targets. Source: “Exploring the Case for Context Based Water Targets” (April 2017)

    The importance of basin context (also known as watershed or catchment context) in setting meaningful metrics and targets was underscored when the Pacific Institute prepared a hypothetical case study to present to corporate partners at Stockholm World Water Week. The case study was developed to begin to walk through the logic of developing context-based metrics. The Pacific Institute used a hypothetical beverage production company located in the Santa Ana watershed of Southern California to explore a context-based approach. In the hypothetical case study, water stress threatened operations by requiring dependence on an unreliable source of imported and brackish groundwater. By developing a sound scientific understanding of the basin and quantifying both use and the basin’s sustainability limits, the case study enabled the Pacific Institute to identify metrics and to make recommendations  to reduce the water quality, supply, and political risks facing the company. Challenges around the context-based approach employed in this case study include more accurately translating the sustainability limits of the basin to relevant metrics and connecting metrics to a meaningful targets approach.

    The logic underpinning CBWTs is to help companies ensure their efforts are contextually relevant and align with public policy, including the Sustainable Development Goals. The Pacific Institute and associated project partners are still in the process of developing the specific approach for setting CBWTs, and welcome corporate partners interested in piloting the guidance, providing feedback, and helping to develop case studies.

    If you are interested in learning more, please read the discussion paper and contact us to get involved.

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  • Make Public Drinking Water Fountains Great Again

    By Rapichan Phurisamban and Peter Gleick

    In February of 2017, the Pacific Institute released a white paper entitled Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access, which highlighted the limited evidence of a link between illness and disease outbreaks and drinking fountains. The report found that most problems could be traced to contamination from poor cleaning and maintenance or old water infrastructure in buildings, and called for comprehensive testing of drinking fountains, implementation of standard protocols for fountain maintenance, and a nationwide effort to replace old water infrastructure, which can be the source of lead and other contaminants.

    One aspect of efforts to expand access to fountains is to take a look at current drinking fountain technology and identify features that can help ensure their quality, convenience, and reliability. Ultimately, these features can help increase public confidence and access to high quality and affordable tap water.

    …»

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  • Corporate Water Targets: A New Approach

    By Tien Shiao

    Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 8.32.06 PM

     

    Water risks once again rank as one of the top 10 global risks in the 2016 World Economic Forum’s annual report.

    Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 8.22.58 PMBecause of this, more and more companies view water as a business risk and water stewardship as a solution. As such, they are looking to find ways to measure their performance and progress. However, current methods for creating water stewardship metrics that evaluate on-the-ground projects are inadequate.

    Corporate water targets are often developed with various objectives in mind. Sometimes they are used to demonstrate the company’s leadership to external audience. Sometimes they are used to inform and inspire employees internally. Sometimes they are used to align water efforts across the company’s operations in various regions. And sometimes they are used to mark the company’s contributions to …»

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  • Thirsty for Change? 4 Ways to Improve Corporate Water Targets

    By Paul Reig, Morgan Gillespy, Tien Shiao, Kari Vigerstol and Alexis Morgan

    Context-based water targets slider cropped

     

    Water-related business risks are becoming more and more apparent. According to CDP’s 2016 global water report, 607 companies lost $14 billion last year alone due to water scarcity, drought, flood and other water risks.

    Current methods for creating corporate water stewardship targets—which often ignore the unique local context of water issues—are inadequate. For companies to succeed as water stewards, they need a new generation of targets. Such targets—based on the local context and guided by the best available science—would help ensure long-term business growth in the face of increased competition and depletion of water.

    That’s why CDP, the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute and WWF are calling for a new approach to setting corporate water targets. Our discussion paper launched today makes the case for setting context-based corporate water targets. Here are four considerations for companies looking to create more impactful water stewardship goals:

    1. Local context matters—a lot.

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  • National Geographic ScienceBlogs: National Water Infrastructure Efforts Must Expand Access to Public Drinking Fountains

    By Peter Gleick and Rapichan Phurisamban 

    March 8, 2017

     

    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    There is strong bipartisan support for expanding investment in the nation’s water infrastructure as part of a broader infrastructure effort. But there is, as yet, little agreement about what specific investments should be made. Here is one idea: expand access to high-quality and safe municipal water by improving access to drinking fountains in schools, parks, public buildings, and around public transit areas.

    Drinking fountains are an important public resource, serving as an alternative to bottled water or sugary drinks and accommodating a wide array of users, including children, commuters, runners, the homeless, and tourists. Some fountains are even designed to provide water for pets. A newly released study from the Pacific Institute, entitled “Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Water Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access,” discusses the state of the nation’s drinking fountains and addresses concerns about their quality and links to illnesses. The report concludes that the risk of fountain water contamination can be reduced or eliminated altogether through improved maintenance and cleaning or updating and replacing old water infrastructure and pipes. …»

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  • 21st Century Water Demand Forecasting

    By Matthew Heberger, Senior Research Associate and Heather Cooley, Water Program Director

    August 31, 2016

    Yogi Berra once said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” And nowhere is this more true than in the water business. Forecasts are extremely important for water utilities, which must make plans today to meet their communities’ current and future water needs. Since water supply projects can take years to plan and build, utilities’ long-term view often reaches twenty years or more into the future. But the industry has a poor track record when it comes to long-range forecasting.

    The results of this are not purely academic. The end result is that water utilities may build unneeded or oversized water supply and treatment infrastructure – things like reservoirs, pumping stations, treatment plants, and desalination facilities – passing on the costs to customers and creating unnecessary environmental impacts. …»

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  • ERW Opinion: On Methods for Assessing Water-Resource Risks and Vulnerabilities

    By Peter Gleick, President Emeritus and Chief Scientist

    July 29, 2016

    Much more can and should be done with new data and methods to improve our understanding of water challenges, says Peter Gleick.

    As populations and economies continue to expand and as anthropogenic climate change accelerates, pressures on regional freshwater resources are also growing. A wide range of assessments of water pressures has been produced in recent years, including the regular updates from the United Nations World Water Development Reports (WWAP 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015), the biennial assessment The World’s Water (Gleick et al 1998–2015), the Aqueduct water stress datasets produced by the World Resources Institute (WRI 2015), and numerous other efforts to develop quantitative water measures and indices. The development of such methods has become increasingly common in recent years in order to help measure progress and evaluate the impacts or effectiveness of water policies and practices. The new letter in this volume of Environmental Research Letters by Padowski et al (2015) offers another opportunity to evaluate freshwater threats and vulnerabilities.

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  • National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Diablo Canyon, Climate Change, Drought, and Energy Policy

    By Peter Gleick, President Emeritus and Chief Scientist

    June 24, 2016

    The announcement that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) will close the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant when its current operating licenses expire in 2025 has caused what can only be described as consternation mixed with occasional conniptions among the nuclear industry and some strongly pro-nuclear groups.

    That’s understandable. Diablo Canyon is aging, but is not the oldest nuclear plant in the fleet and PG&E could have chosen to push for a renewal of the license to continue operations for many more years. Diablo Canyon’s two reactors are also California’s last operating nuclear plants, following the closure many years ago of Rancho Seco near Sacramento, and more recently, the last of the San Onofre reactors. As such, the closure is symbolic of the broader woes of the nuclear power industry in the United States, which has been unable to build new reactors and is seeing the current reactors being shuttered, one by one.

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  • Fits and Starts at the Salton Sea

    By Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate

    May 16, 2016

    Daniel M. Edwards
    Daniel M. Edwards

    The fortunes and prospects of California’s Salton Sea have ebbed and flowed over the years. Currently, the Sea is enjoying renewed attention and funding, after almost a decade of neglect and indifference. The State of California is poised to dedicate $80 million to efforts to protect and revitalize (a small portion of) the Salton Sea, prompted in large part by a fast-approaching tipping point that will see a dramatic shrinking of the Sea, devastating its rich ecosystem and imperiling the health of hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

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  • National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Global Droughts: A Bad Year

    By Peter Gleick, President

    April 27, 2016

    Populations around the world face many severe water challenges, from scarcity to contamination, from political or violent conflict to economic disruption. As populations and economies grow, peak water pressures on existing renewable water resources also tend to grow up to the point that natural scarcity begins to constrain the options of water planners and managers. At this point, the effects of natural fluctuations in water availability in the form of extreme weather events become even more potentially disruptive than normal. In particular, droughts begin to bite deeply into human well-being.

    …»

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