228 Multi-Benefit Resources


Planning for Environmental Health

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Most city planners ascribe to the goal of fostering “healthy cities,” yet determining the best way to translate this vision into reality has posed a challenge given competing priorities like job creation, housing development, and access to transit. Popular planning concepts such as smart growth, new urbanism, and sustainable development often do not fully address key community health concerns like quality-of-life issues and health hazards posed by existing and proposed development.

Environmental conditions and land use patterns contribute to chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. Urban development that unfolds in an inequitable manner and that fails to consider public health exacerbates these problems. Often neighborhoods that have been historically overburdened by sources of toxic pollution like freeways and factories are targeted for redevelopment projects that do not adequately account for the health hazards that existing land uses pose to current and future residents. As a result, residents of these neighborhoods may contend with planning processes that neglect to address pressing community health concerns in priority-setting, implementation, and evaluation.

Our work in the arena of planning for environmental health aims to strengthen the evidence base that makes the case for public health as a pillar of truly sustainable urban development. We provide technical assistance to community-based groups and coalitions in assessing the community health impacts of proposed planning and development on issues ranging from freight transport and climate action planning to housing affordability.

With our partner the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, we researched best practices in incorporating community health into Community Benefits Agreements to inform the redevelopment of the Oakland Army Base adjacent to the Port of Oakland. With our partner the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, we developed detailed recommendations for advancing community-based adaptation-planning priorities that protect the health of communities most vulnerable to climate change impacts via the City of Oakland’s Energy and Climate Action Plan process. We have also provided technical support to the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative on housing affordability models such as forming a Community Land Trust to ensure accessible homeownership opportunities for local residents.

 

 

Participatory Action Research

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Participating in the decisions and activities of carrying out research can have a profound impact of empowering community members without previous training to understand, find solutions to, and communicate the challenges they face. Participatory Action Research is guided by the people affected by the issues being researched and is oriented toward action that will change the policies and institutions governing the issues. Facilitating meaningful participation in research entails new approaches that support trusting relationships, shared decision-making, and capacity-building.

Communities facing persistent environmental health and justice issues have the right to excellent research. We recognize that low-income communities and communities of color are too often subjected to extractive, irrelevant, and exploitative research – and when seeking out research find only inferior quality products and services available to them. The Pacific Institute engages in research processes and provides research products that reflect our principles of accuracy, relevance, rigor, accessibility, and usefulness. Our goal is produce research that reflects research standards used by peer-reviewed journals and is based on methods consistent with best practices by technical experts, while being entirely accountable to communities and supportive of building community power.

A participatory research process can support many aspects of building community leadership capacity, including:

  • Identifying a common challenge or building a shared vision.
  • Investigating the root causes of that challenge.
  • Developing solutions to the challenge.
  • Building relationships with similarly affected individuals and allied organizations.
  • Delivering powerful, effective, and persuasive messages to communicate the need for action.
  • Measuring whether a solution or policy is in fact being implemented and whether it is effective.

When disadvantaged communities produce and share their knowledge, the process also often produces more accurate and complete research.

Multiple-Use Water Services

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Recognizing that water is used for different purposes, Multiple Use Water Services (MUS) has emerged as one of the best ways to maximize water use. Research has shown that MUS improves:

  • Use of water from one source for multiple purposes
  • Use of water of different quality from different sources for different purposes
  • Income generation and other productive purposes
  • Nutritional values of families
  • Ability to operate and maintain water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities at community level

Our work in this area focuses on:

  • Research into factors that should be considered to make MUS robust
  • Promoting the sharing of knowledge through capacity building
  • Releasing of tools that promote MUS

Download the report Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS): Recommendations for a Robust and Sustainable Approach.

Mobile Phone Solutions for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Rapidly growing populations, decreasing water availability, and more erratic precipitation due to climate change are causing a crisis among the urban poor: millions of city dwellers in developing countries don’t have access to regular, reliable, safe, or affordable water and sanitation. The urban poor are willing to pay for water and sanitation services, and often are paying many times more for water from private sources. Water and sanitation utilities around the world have demonstrated that providing service to the urban poor can improve the financial health of utilities, yet many still don’t have access to information to help them make this case.

The widespread and rapidly growing use of mobile phones throughout the world offers an exciting opportunity for enabling information to flow between communities, governmental entities, water and sanitation service providers, and NGOs and to support rapid and informed decision-making. Mobile connectivity is outpacing fixed line telephony around the world, and especially in many developing countries due to the cost savings in both network infrastructure and individual subscription fees. The numbers are telling: in the least developed countries (LDCs) and developing countries, there are now 25 to 58 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, and in some countries this access has even outpaced access to basic services.

Mobile phone technology is making it easier for people to access information – and it is spurring demand for information access and transparency. Communities can report conditions such as poor water quality and sewage backflow, register lack of infrastructure to aid in network expansion, view information on the status of service provision and problem resolution, and connect and work together around issues of concern. Utilities and governments can increase service provision to underserved and vulnerable communities, alert residents to service changes, and aggregate data on informal water services, unserviced areas, and aquifer levels, as well as assess and prepare for risks associated with climate variability and change. NGOs, community-based organizations, and media can develop alternate and transparent sources of information to highlight situations where little or no formal information exists.

The Pacific Institute’s WASH SMS Project is creating a highly accessible communication and monitoring system that uses readily available mobile phones to collect and disseminate information that can fill multiple data needs – for poor residents, utilities, local governments, NGOs, as well as the average customer – and is designed to be accessible both to resource-strapped utilities and poor residents. Through crowd-sourcing it helps develop rich, actionable data that addresses critical urban WASH needs, and informs better policymaking, budgeting, and planning.

By enabling information about water and sanitation problems to flow among communities, governmental entities, and utilities, this platform will support rapid, informed decision-making on acute and chronic water problems and make the health implications of lack of access to WASH services “visible” to planning agencies and utilities.

Read the report mWASH: Mobile Phone Applications for the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Sector.

Green Jobs and Water

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By Pacific Institute Staff

The transition toward more sustainable approaches to managing, delivering, and treating freshwater involves workers in many different sectors of the economy and shifts in markets, occupations, and jobs created. Twenty-first century water challenges require sustainable measures such as low-impact development, water reuse, watershed restoration, water conservation and efficiency, and many other proven and promising practices. There is additional need for major investments in the nation’s aging infrastructure for wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water along with ongoing operation and maintenance to sustain that infrastructure. Our research on job creation and sustainable water management provides information vitally needed to help local, state, and federal agencies; utilities; companies; unions; and nonprofit and community-based organizations adopt strategies that maximize the jobs created with these practices.

A growing body of research points to significant numbers of jobs in diverse occupations associated with sustainable water practices. In our 2013 study, Sustainable Water Jobs, we identified 136 occupations involved in the work of achieving more sustainable water outcomes in agriculture, urban residential and commercial settings, restoration and remediation, alternative water sources, and stormwater management. The number of jobs created by sustainable water practices is substantial. The data available point to 10-15 jobs per $1 million invested in alternative water supplies; 5-20 in stormwater management; 12-22 in urban conservation and efficiency; 14.6 in agricultural efficiency and quality; and 10-72 jobs per $1 million invested in restoration and remediation. This research suggests the growing interest in exploring green jobs in water is well merited.

Our research analyzes the activities, occupations, quality and quantity of jobs, financing, and policies involved in implementing sustainable water strategies with a particular focus on identifying ways to expand employment opportunities for disadvantaged communities.

 

 

 

Freight Transport Justice

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Freight transport, or the movement of products and raw materials via truck, train, ship or plane, is a major source of unhealthy diesel pollution and other adverse impacts that disproportionately affect low-income communities, communities of color, and workers. Diesel truck and train traffic impacts the daily lives of residents of communities near ports, rail yards, freeways, and other freight-related land uses in the form of noise, traffic congestion, and pedestrian safety hazards as well as serious health problems like asthma, cancer, and heart disease. Freight truck and train traffic also contributes to reduced walkability and bikeability, neighborhood blight, and economic decline in neighborhoods hosting freight-related land uses, impacting longer-term neighborhood livability and economic vitality.

The goal of the Pacific Institute’s Freight Transport Justice Project is to reduce the adverse impacts of freight transportation on community health and quality of life in low-income neighborhoods of color closest to freight transport hubs and corridors and to increase the share of the benefits that are enjoyed by residents of these communities. We build the power and capacity of communities to participate in decision-making regarding freight transportation and play a leadership role in local and regional collaborations working to win community health, job creation, and economic justice victories. We do so by working with project partners to carry out action research that makes the case for community solutions to freight transport impacts with decision-makers and by conducting leadership development trainings on freight transport issues with community residents.

With our partner the Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative, we have conducted several action research projects that advance this regional coalition’s goal of reducing exposure to toxic diesel pollution in low-income communities and communities of color in the San Francisco Bay Area.  These projects have ranged from quantifying the public health costs of freight transport operations on California’s communities so these would be considered in California’s Goods Movement Action Planning process, to mapping the potential for land use conflicts with freight transport hazards in areas slated for infill housing development as part of state climate action policy implementation in the Bay Area. With the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, we co-developed and co-facilitated a 16-hour Community Leadership Academy on freight transport, land use, and transportation planning to educate and engage West Oakland residents in freight transport decision-making. In October 2010, the Pacific Institute released Gearing up for Action: A Curriculum Guide for Freight Transport Justice, which was developed over the past five years with organizations and coalitions in other freight transport corridors and major hubs in the United States in order to build community power to address these common challenges.

 

 

 

Corporate Water Disclosure

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Corporate water disclosure – the act of collecting data on the current state of a company’s water management, assessing the implications of this information for the business, developing a strategic response, and ultimately reporting this information to stakeholders (investors, NGOs, consumers, communities, suppliers, employees, and others) – is a critical component of a company’s water management efforts and water-related sustainability more generally. Disclosure supports more sustainable management of water resources by improving the ability of stakeholder audiences to evaluate a company’s water practices, make comparisons across companies, and thus foster greater corporate accountability. Disclosure can support business viability in many ways, including:

  • Improving a company’s understanding of its water challenges and effectiveness of its responses.
  • Providing an opportunity to demonstrate progress and good practice to external stakeholders, thereby improving the company’s reputation and building investor confidence.
  • Establishing a dialogue and building credibility with key stakeholders, paving the way for future partnerships to advanced shared water-related goals.

Water disclosure can be applied in a number of ways. It can act as the foundation of a standalone report on the company’s water management activities, serve as a component of broader sustainability reports, inform company financial filings, augment information on company websites, and be a starting point for dialogue with company stakeholders.

In response to the growing importance to businesses of both water use and disclosure, a proliferation of initiatives are seeking to provide guidance on how companies can measure their water performance, assess conditions in the river basins where they operate, understand their water-related challenges and opportunities, develop effective water management strategies, and communicate these issues to stakeholders. These initiatives have catalyzed significant progress toward more sustainable corporate water management. However, the proliferation of water assessment and disclosure tools and methodologies has also led to:

  • Companies diverting important resources to complete multiple water or sustainability surveys of varying content.
  • Companies using a variety of different metrics that are not easily comparable, therefore weakening the value of disclosure offerings.

Beyond this, current practice in corporate water disclosure (even among the most robust reporters) typically does not adequately capture the incredibly complex and location-specific nature of water resource dynamics and corporate action on this topic. Many companies are therefore looking for practical guidance on how to more effectively disclose the many elements of corporate water management.

Read the CEO Water Mandate’s Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines

 

 

Corporate Water Assessment

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Companies’ ability to measure and understand their water use and corollary risks and impacts is key to effectively mitigating specific water problems and becoming responsible water stewards. Risk and impact assessments are largely based on a process often referred to as water footprinting or corporate water accounting – where companies use quantitative measures of water use and wastewater discharge as a starting point to assess impacts and risks, track the effects of management changes over time, and report this information to stakeholders. Water assessment also allows consumers, civil society groups, and the investment community to compare different companies’ water risks and impacts in order to inform their actions and decision making. The ability to effectively assess corporate water use and impacts is essential in helping companies drive improvement and become aligned with external stakeholders’ expectations, as well as their efforts to advance sustainable water management.

Collecting and disseminating meaningful water-related information, however, is a complicated and difficult undertaking. Corporate water assessment methods and tools have been under development for the past decade, yet there is near-universal agreement that current methods – though a good start – are inadequate and need to be expanded and refined.

Corporate water assessment today can be seen as serving three general, interrelated steps:

Measurement of water performance: In the first stage, companies quantitatively measure the water performance of their various facilities and products. This process often includes an assessment of water use, water use efficiency (e.g., water use per unit of production or number of employees), recycled water use, and volume and quality of wastewater discharge throughout their value chain, including their own direct operations, suppliers, and product use.

Assessing water-related social and environmental impacts: The actual social and environmental impacts associated with corporate water use and wastewater discharge can differ drastically depending on the local water resource context (i.e., physical availability of water, in-stream flow needs, and community access to water). Impact assessments take facility water performance and overlay it with data on local watershed conditions, such as physical water availability, the proportion of available water currently being used by humans, community access to water services, environmental flows, and water quality. Impact assessments ultimately aim to understand and quantify the ways in which business activities may affect issues such as community access to water, human health, or the in-stream flows required for healthy ecosystems.

Determining business risks associated with water performance and impacts: Quantitative measures of a facility’s water performance and impacts can be coupled with assessments of local watershed conditions to determine risk. Unlike these previous two measures, risk assessments are typically largely qualitative. They aim to determine which facilities or value chain segments have the greatest impacts or costs, where water supply may be unreliable or unsecure, and where water quality may be prohibitive.

Conflicts Over Water

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By Pacific Institute Staff

There are complex and real links between water and conflict. While water resources have rarely been the sole source of violent conflict or war, there is a long history of tensions and violence over access to water resources, attacks on water systems, and the use of water systems as weapons during war.

The Pacific Institute’s work on water and conflict helps opposing factions find common ground and reduce conflict over resources. Our work in this area has brought together disputing parties in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, Central America, and the Middle East to explore ways of moving toward cooperation over water. In joint projects with Oregon State University, the Institute has also brought arms control experts together with international water negotiators to explore tools and techniques for reaching agreements. We have also worked with military, intelligence, and diplomatic communities to help them understand the risks, and how to reduce the risks, of violence over water resources.

In an ongoing effort to understand the connections between water resources, water systems, and international security and conflict, the Pacific Institute has coordinated a project for over twenty years to track and categorize events related to water and conflict. We produce and maintain the Water and Conflict Chronology, which traces the history of water as a tool of war and conflict going back 5,000 years. It presents these data three ways: a timeline showing when conflicts over water occurred, an interactive map showing the location of these conflicts, and a detailed list that can be filtered by region, conflict type, and date.

To aid those studying the role of water in conflict, the Institute also maintains an on-line, searchable bibliography on water and conflict.

 

 

Community Resilience to Climate Change

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Those who have historically contributed the least to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions warming our planet often stand to be most affected by the localized adverse impacts that these will have on community health and quality of life. These localized impacts, ranging from extreme heat to rising sea levels, will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations such as the elderly, renters, low-income residents, those with pre-existing medical conditions, and those without health or home insurance. Yet the same communities considered most vulnerable to climate change also contain culturally based practices and skills and a wealth of knowledge about how to creatively marshal social networks to augment limited resources to weather hard times. For example, Vietnamese immigrants in New Orleans were able to tap into and adapt traditional fishing practices to cope with food shortages in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Pacific Institute Resilient Roots Project works to connect Oakland, Calif. residents to the resources and capacity they need to take individual and collective action to build their resiliency to local climate impacts and to engage in climate action plan implementation efforts to better prepare and protect their communities from these impacts. We partner with community-based organizations and coalitions to conduct action research and popular education that supports community-led efforts to build resilience and advances adaptation planning priorities identified by residents of vulnerable communities.

Since 2010 the Pacific Institute has partnered with the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC) to assess local climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation options and develop actionable tools to engage impacted communities in climate adaptation planning efforts with a focus on implementation of the City of Oakland’s Energy and Climate Action Plan. With OCAC’s Resilience and Adaptation Committee, we are developing community education materials on flooding, poor air quality, and other local climate change impacts, as well as popular education activities to engage residents in building resilience to these impacts in their communities.

 

Community Mapping Initiative

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Maps are powerful tools for analyzing and communicating how environmental hazards and resources are distributed in a given place. Mapping technologies that link cell phone technology, the internet, and spatial analysis software have created vital new tool sets for developing solutions to complex environmental problems that impact community health and quality of life. Yet those most affected by environmental and health disparities rarely have capacity to take advantage of these tools. Barriers to access such as having to purchase expensive licenses to use mapping software, combined with the steep learning curve of developing the technical capacity to use it, prevent many low-income and communities of color from using mapping technologies.

While mapping has exploded in recent years, too few mapping projects are able to open the process to involve residents in the construction and use of maps. Residents involved in mapping bring insight to the maps and can develop powerful leadership qualities as they master the process. The Pacific Institute’s Community Mapping Initiative achieves high levels of community participation through participatory research and popular education approaches to engage impacted residents of varying formal education and technological literacy levels in documenting, analyzing, and communicating spatial patterns in local environmental and health conditions. The workshop curricula and tools we provide build community capacity to access and strategically use mapping technologies to document and share local knowledge about their environmental and health conditions. We work closely with organizational leaders to integrate mapping into community organizing and advocacy goals and strategies so that the new information and leadership is linked to organized efforts for change.

Our Community Mapping Initiative builds on over 10 years of experience with mapping projects and capacity-building workshops we have done with community and coalition partners on issues ranging from lead contamination risk and liquor store concentration to diesel pollution and access to open space. Community mapping tools we have used include hand-drawn mapping by residents over computer-generated base maps; spatial analysis using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to answer questions posed by community residents; and internet-based mapping to document and share community knowledge. We also provide technical assistance in creating digital maps or conducting spatial analysis on a contract basis to nonprofit and community-based organizations working on environmental health and justice issues.

 

 

Climate Change Vulnerability and Resilience

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By Pacific Institute Staff

The science of climate change is compelling and strong, and has been for over two decades, telling us that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities not only will change, but are already changing the climate. We are now committed to a degree of irreversible, long-term consequences ranging from rising sea levels, far greater heat stress and damages, shrinking glaciers and snowpack, more flooding and droughts, and a wide range of other threats and risks.

The Pacific Institute, since its founding in 1987, has been addressing many of these vulnerabilities to climate change. It is still not too late to slow the rate of climate changes and to reduce the ultimate cost to public health, ecosystems, and the economy. We must reduce the severity of future climate change through efforts to cut or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and we must adapt to unavoidable climatic change already locked into the system.

For example, the Pacific Institute assessment of the vulnerabilities of the California coast to accelerating sea-level rise found over $100 billion in infrastructure and nearly 500,000 people currently at risk of increased coastal flooding with a 1.4 m rise in sea levels. Other Institute research shows social and economic factors like age, race, income, and lack of access to a vehicle or other means of transportation directly affect a community’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate impacts. Thus, addressing the social vulnerability – the susceptibility of a given community to harm from climate hazards – in climate change policies and response strategies is critical.

The good news is that there are smart and effective things that can be done to reduce our risks from climate change. From the Institute’s work with our local community of Oakland, Calif., to exploring community resilience strategies in Indore, India, our research toward development of comprehensive and equitable climate adaptation planning is based on the necessity to engage local communities in the process. Beyond the community level, we need to expand the process of adapting to unavoidable impacts through smarter land-use and water-use planning involving water managers and utilities; business and agriculture; local, national, and international government.

As we act to slow climate change, we will have reduced our emissions of pollutants, cut our economic dependence on fossil fuels, and boosted our economy with new green technologies and jobs. The Institute works in this area as well, helping individuals, utilities, corporations, and governments measure and monitor greenhouse gas emissions from water systems and options for reducing those emissions. We know what we must do to slow the onset of climate change, and we know we must start planning our resilience strategies for the changes to come. Our task now is to convince our leaders to act in a timely and responsible way.

 

 

Climate Change Resilience in Developing Countries

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Thousands of cities in the developing world are facing rising pressures on institutions and infrastructure due to population growth and urbanization. Hundreds of thousands of people globally wake up each day wondering where they will get water, how long they will wait for it, how much they will pay for it, what the quality of that water will be, and whether that water will be there tomorrow.

In this environment, with already existing pressures on water availability and use, developing country cities are now beginning to experience the added impacts of climate change. Climate change is already having impacts on temperature and the hydrologic cycle, changing when, where, how much, and how often water falls. This complicates planning for water supply and demand and increases water insecurity. For those, particularly the urban poor in developing countries who can barely meet their minimum water-related needs, climate change is likely to increase already high levels of water insecurity and disaster risk.

The Pacific Institute’s work in India developed research data on sustainable water management in the face of climate change in Indore and other cities. We worked with local residents, elected officials, water utility managers, representatives from the informal (or private) water sector, and our India-based partners ISET and TARU Leading Edge on shared learning dialogues and a household water survey and a water market survey. Through this exchange, we developed ideas to improve  water issues, including policy and tool solutions to ensure that the systems and the infrastructure for the provision of basic services are managed in a more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable manner.

 

 

Climate Change and Water

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Since its founding, the Pacific Institute has been at the forefront of research on the impacts of climate change on water resources and on strategies to reduce those impacts. The water cycle and the climate cycle are inextricably linked. The movement of water is the primary way that energy is redistributed around the planet. And as temperatures rise, the flows of water in the hydrologic cycle will accelerate. Among other consequences, climate change will intensify the water cycle, altering water availability, timing, quality, and demand. Indeed, all of the major international and national assessments have concluded that freshwater systems are among the most vulnerable sectors of society to climate changes.

Early work done by Pacific Institute staff highlighted the risks of climate change for regional water systems, especially those dependent on snowfall and snowpack. As early as the late 1980s and early 1990s, we briefed leading national and international policymakers on climate and water risks. Institute staff played a leading role in evaluating risks to the nation’s water resources as part of the first U.S. National Assessment.

Some degree of climate change is now unavoidable. Thus, adaptation must be a central element of policy. Adaptation refers to initiatives and measures to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems to actual and expected climate change effects. Water managers and farmers around the world already implement a variety of technologies and practices to adapt to current climate- and weather-related risks. For example, water managers implement water conservation and efficiency measures to reduce their vulnerability to water supply constraints. Farmers shift the timing and types of crops grown according to seasonal weather forecasts.

But while it is important to build upon these strategies, we cannot assume that existing approaches are sufficient to adapt to future climate conditions. Action is needed now to improve our understanding of water-related risks from climate change and to explore and implement strategies to reduce these risks. The Pacific Institute works with diverse stakeholders to identify and develop water-management solutions that promote more resilient water systems in the U.S. and abroad.

In addition to adapting to those climate impacts that are now unavoidable, we must also work to avoid severe climate impacts to which we cannot adapt. The good news is that the strong connections between water and energy offer some unique opportunities to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with water management and build more resilient water systems. The Pacific Institute has worked with local communities, water agencies, utilities, and policymakers to develop and apply tools for understanding how integrated energy and water policies can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the ultimate impacts of climate change. Additionally, the Pacific Institute continues to work with stakeholders to identify and develop water management solutions that promote more resilient water systems in the U.S. and abroad.

The CEO Water Mandate

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By Pacific Institute Staff

The UN CEO Water Mandate is a unique public-private initiative – established by the UN Global Compact in 2007 and endorsed by global companies from a variety of industry sectors – designed to assist companies in the development, implementation, and disclosure of corporate water stewardship practices and policies. It was created out of the acknowledgement that 1) global water challenges create risk for the private sector, public sector, local communities, and the environment alike and 2) business practices can have a profound effect on water resources, ecosystems, and communities.

The Mandate is based on the notion that there is a business imperative and a responsibility for companies to promote efficient and clean practices in their operations and to encourage and facilitate sustainable water management in the watersheds in which they operate. It is founded on the belief that cross-sectoral collaboration on shared water-related goals is the most effective path to sustainable water management and that the private sector can be a vital partner in this effort. In order to realize these broad goals, the Mandate conducts research identifying and exploring critical water-related business issues, develops operational guidance that helps companies implement good practice, and convenes multi-stakeholder conferences whereby companies and key stakeholders discuss core water challenges and effective and equitable solutions to them. Endorsing companies strive to operate in a more sustainable manner and acknowledge that they have a responsibility to make water resources management a priority and to work with governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders to address global and local water challenges.

Endorsers pursue good practice in each of the Mandate’s six commitment areas:

  1. Direct Operations
  2. Supply Chain and Watershed Management
  3. Collective Action
  4. Public Policy
  5. Community Engagement
  6. Transparency

Endorsers of the CEO Water Mandate recognize that through individual and collective action they can contribute to the vision of the UN Global Compact and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals. Under a Memorandum of Understanding established between the  Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact in May 2008, the Institute serves as part of the CEO Water Mandate Secretariat and as the “operational arm” of the initiative. In this capacity, the Institute coordinates the initiative’s working conferences and spearheads the advancement of the initiative’s workstreams on various areas of corporate water management. To learn more about the CEO Water Mandate, go to: www.ceowatermandate.org

About The CEO Water Mandate

 

Meeting Summaries

Business Engagement with Water Policy

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Many water-related business risks stem from ineffective or non-existent public water policy and management. These risks are much more difficult to address than those associated with internal business practice since companies have limited influence in public water governance and decision making. Policy engagement provides an avenue through which companies can take action and contribute resources and expertise to facilitate sustainable water management in the watersheds in which they operate.

The UN CEO Water Mandate’s Guide to Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy provides a detailed description of why companies pursue policy engagement and offers practical guidance on how they can implement it.

Corporate engagement with public policy has traditionally been understood as direct policy advocacy and lobbying. However, engagement can be understood more broadly as all interactions with government entities, local communities, and/or civil society organizations that have the goal of advancing two objectives: the responsible internal company management of water resources within direct operations and supply chains in line with policy imperatives (i.e., legal compliance) and the sustainable and equitable management of the catchment in which companies operate.

Policy engagement is built around the premise that the external catchment conditions that create risk for companies also create risk for other actors in that catchment. Indeed, communities, the environment, customers and suppliers, as well as government are all exposed to risk due to common problems such as water scarcity, pollution, aging infrastructure, floods, droughts, and climate change. Collaborative efforts between different sectors can help ensure that water resources are managed sustainably and equitably. That said, companies engaging with public water policy must pay special attention to stakeholder concerns of policy capture (i.e., unduly influencing water policy such that the public interest is undermined in favor of corporate interests) due to a long history of the private sector manipulating political processes.

Companies responsibly engaging with governments and other stakeholders to advance sustainable water policies and management practices take a variety of approaches, including:

  • Encouraging efficient water use across a catchment;
  • Contributing to the development of effective and equitable policy and regulations;
  • Supporting research, advocacy, and monitoring;
  • Aiding environmentally and socially responsible infrastructure development;
  • Advancing public awareness of water resource issues;
  • Working with communities to remedy or prevent water resource problems.

 

 

Business Case for Water Sustainability

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Emerging corporate practice and research suggest that the environmental, political, and social realities of the 21st century mean that environmentally and socially responsible corporate water management is not only an ethical responsibility for companies, but also increasingly an integral part of ensuring business viability and reducing business risk.

The strategic decision to proactively manage water-related risks is driven by five primary motivations:

  1. Ensuring the company’s local legal or social license to operate in a specific location;
  2. Preventing or reacting to operational crises resulting from inadequate supply or quality of water or water-dependent inputs in a specific location;
  3. Assuring current and potential investors and markets that business operations will continue to be profitable into the future by assuring water availability for operations and supply chains;
  4. Upholding corporate values and ethics based on sustainable and equitable principles by contributing to the well-being of watersheds, ecosystems, and communities; and
  5. Gaining competitive advantage over competitors due to stakeholder and consumer perceptions that the company uses natural resources responsibly with minimal impacts on communities.

While wasteful or polluting operations certainly create significant risk for companies, water-related business risks are driven as much, if not more, by unsustainable watershed conditions outside their fencelines, such as water scarcity, pollution, or weak water governance. For example, water scarcity may result in insufficient volumes of water to maintain production. Poor ambient water quality might increase pre-treatment costs borne by industry. Weak water governance may result in erratic water deliveries resulting in production delays. For such reasons, companies have a stake in ensuring both the sustainability of their own practices, but also the efficacy of water management in the watersheds in which they operate.

Inefficient water use, water scarcity, pollution, competition for water, climate change, and other water-related concerns can affect companies in a number of different ways. However, water-related business risks generally fall into three broad categories:

  1. Physical/operational risk: Physical risks stem from having too little water to maintain production (scarcity); too much water (flooding); or water that is unfit for use (pollution).
  2. Reputational/stakeholder risk: Reputational risks stem from changes in how stakeholders view companies due to their real or perceived negative impacts on the quantity and quality of water resources, the health and wellbeing of workers, and aquatic ecosystems, communities, and future business viability.
  3. Governance/regulatory risk: Risks related to public water governance can occur simply as a result of more stringent water allocations and/or regulations, but also in response to ineffective, poorly implemented, or inconsistent water-related policies and regulations.

 

Water, Conflict, and Business

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Water resources have rarely, if ever, been the sole source of violent conflict or war. But this fact has led some international security “experts” to ignore the complex and real relationships between water and security. In fact, there is a long history of conflicts and tensions over water resources and the use of water systems as weapons during war.

Increasing business awareness of potential impacts to operations while operating in conflict or “high-risk zones” has led companies to seriously consider how to engage in conflict-sensitive business practice. Combined with greater awareness of the global water crisis, there has been much research on how water use and pollution by companies can exacerbate conflict – however, there has been less research that explores more broadly the ways that conflict and high-risk situations can affect water systems and resources directly, as well as on the planning, construction, operation, and management of water systems, and how these may impact business.

To prepare for these situations, companies will need to proactively analyze the water system’s operating environment and how the company uses water directly and indirectly – and the source of that water. Their responses to these water-related risks can have a range of results, from exacerbating local conflict situations to positively addressing risks for the benefit of the company and the local community.

The Pacific Institute’s work in this area looks specifically at this set of issues, proposing a framework for understanding the nature of water challenges in conflict and high-risk areas and how these, in turn, affect business operations and society. It also poses potential areas for further inquiry around how businesses may use existing water-related risk assessment tools to consider potential risks for operating in conflict and high-risk areas.

Popular Education and Leadership Development

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Popular education is an approach to building leadership that draws upon the everyday experiences of the people most affected by an issue as an important source of knowledge. In this approach, people “scale up” their individual experiences by creating a space of trust to share and discuss patterns in their experiences at a community level. This can be done through a variety of activities that help distill the common themes in the lives of participants and facilitate a discussion about how to use those experiences to create positive changes in community conditions. Popular education can empower people with limited educational and economic opportunity to engage in and take leadership in decision-making, policy, and system changes that tackle the root causes of this lack of opportunity at an individual and community level.

Our popular education and leadership development work focuses on elevating the voice and power of low-income communities and communities of color, where environmental pollution and poverty are concentrated, in environmental and economic decision-making. We partner with community-based organizations and coalitions to develop and co-facilitate popular education curricula and leadership development trainings on issues ranging from alternatives to incarceration to community resilience to climate change. With the Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative and other community partners, we developed a curriculum guide, Gearing Up for Action, to build the capacity of community residents to engage in generating solutions to the impacts of diesel truck and train traffic on community health quality of life. With the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, we developed an activity workbook for community organizations to use in educating residents about action they can take to build resilience to local climate change impacts at a community level.

The Pacific Institute, through the CEO Water Mandate, is developing tools and guidance to help companies interested in working on collective action to do so in a responsible and effective manner that is in line with the principles outlined by the Guide to Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy.

Bottled Water

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Sales and consumption of bottled water have skyrocketed in recent years. From 1988 to 2002, the sales of bottled water globally more than quadrupled to over 131 million cubic meters annually. Bottled water sales worldwide are continuing to increase annually far faster than almost any other category of commercial beverage. As of 2013, more than 50% of Americans drank bottled water occasionally or as their major source of drinking water – an astounding fact given the high quality and low cost of U.S. tap water.

Why the great growth in bottled water sales? Bottled water typically costs a thousand times more per liter than high-quality municipal tap water. Are consumers willing to pay this price because they believe that bottled water is safer than tap water? Do they have a real taste preference for bottled water? Or is the convenience of the portable plastic bottle the major factor? Are they taken in by the images portrayed in commercials and on the bottles?

The answers are consequential. We estimate that total global consumer expenditures for bottled water are approximately $100 billion per year – a vast sum that both indicates consumers are willing to pay for convenient and reliable drinking water and that society has the resources to make comparable expenditures to provide far greater quantities of water for far less money by investing in reliable domestic supplies.

Ironically, despite its cost, users should not assume that the quality of bottled water is adequately protected, regulated, or monitored. Even where regulations exist, bottled water plants typically receive far less scrutiny from inspectors than other food plants or municipal water systems. In many places, such as the United States, bottlers themselves do most sampling and testing, which opens the door to fraud, misreporting, and inadequate protection. Ultimately, the provision of clean water to all will not come from sales of bottled water but from effective actions of communities, governments, and municipal providers to provide a safe and reliable domestic water supply.

Sustainability Standards Systems

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Over the past two decades, there has been a rapid increase in the number of people who have looked to align their social and environmental values with the way they spend their money. This nascent shift in capitalism spans from the certified organic food people eat, to the ethically produced shoes and clothes they wear, to the Socially Responsible financial investments they make for retirement. Partly in response to this emerging societal phenomenon, companies large and small and other institutions (including government and the financial sector) are also seeking to work with suppliers and partners that have a positive track record regarding their social and environmental practices.

In a world where businesses understand the clear benefits of being seen as good social/environmental performers, they will market themselves as such, even if this means baseless self‐promotion or “greenwashing.” So in this emerging values‐based, “ethical” economy, how does one begin to meaningfully and accurately differentiate the good companies and products from the bad? A significant part of the answer is standards‐based, ethical certification schemes, which we now call “sustainability standards systems.”

Yet the growing role of sustainability standards in global commerce is only one part of the equation; another is their changing role on public policy. Private standards have long interacted with and are often developed in response to public lawmaking and regulatory efforts (or lack thereof). They have been perceived to act as gap‐fillers for public law, to be the technical foundation for existing public laws, to be precursors to new public law, or even at times, to be preemptive efforts (typically by industry) to retard or derail public regulation. Understanding the appropriate role for sustainability standards in relation to public governance is vital.

Even while many practitioners might recognize that the role and influence of sustainability standards are continuing to grow, policy makers, NGOs and the general public are all either unaware of, or struggling to conceptualize the issue. Without better and shared understanding about their importance and role, however, sustainability standards will not be able to fully realize their true potential in advancing sustainability. The Pacific Institute aims to shed light on these poorly recognized phenomena and demystify key concepts and emerging issues relating to sustainability standards and development.

To achieve this goal, we believe that the issues need to be “framed” in ways that are more accessible to various stakeholders. To do so the Pacific Institute, in collaboration with its partners, has developed two websites that identify major issues facing standards systems, principles about the relationship between standards and public governance, and framing tools that help better communicate the value of standards.

Soft Path for Water

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By Pacific Institute Staff

The “soft path for water” defines a new approach to managing water resources. The soft path begins with the recognition that with few exceptions people do not want to “use” water – they want complex combinations of goods and services. People want to drink and bathe, grow food, produce and consume goods and services, and otherwise satisfy human needs and desires.

While many of these things require water, achieving these ends can be done in different ways, often with radically different implications for water. The soft path recognizes that there are two primary ways of meeting water-related needs, or more poetically, two paths. The “hard” path relies almost exclusively on centralized infrastructure and decision making using technology and institutions developed in the 19th and 20th centuries: large dams and reservoirs, pipelines and treatment plants, public water departments and agencies and private companies. The objective of the hard path is to deliver water, mostly of potable quality, and sometimes to remove wastewater.

The “soft path” has a different, broader set of goals: the delivery of water-related services matched to users’ needs and resource availability. The soft path also uses centralized infrastructure, but as just one in an integrated series of tools. It also seeks to take advantage of the potential for decentralized facilities, efficient technologies, flexible public and private institutions, innovative economics, and human capital. It strives to improve the overall productivity of water use rather than seek endless sources of new supply. It works with water users at local and community scales and seeks to protect the critical ecological services such as nutrient cycling, flood protection, aquatic habitat, and waste dilution and removal that water also provides.

The soft path is distinguished from the traditional, hard path for water in six main ways:

  • The soft path directs governments, companies, and individuals to focus on sustainable ways to satisfy the needs of people and businesses, instead of just supplying water. People want clean clothes or to be able to produce goods and services – they do not care how much water is used and may not care if water is used at all.
  • The soft path leads to water systems that supply water of various qualities for different uses. For instance, storm runoff, greywater, and reclaimed wastewater are well-suited to irrigate landscaping or for some industrial purposes.
  • The soft path for water recognizes that investing in decentralized infrastructure can be just as cost-effective as investing in large, centralized facilities. There is nothing inherently better about providing irrigation water from a massive reservoir instead of using decentralized rainwater capture and storage.
  • The soft path requires water agency or company personnel to interact closely with water users and to engage community groups in water management. The hard path, governed by an engineering mentality, is accustomed to meeting generic needs.
  • The soft path recognizes that the health of our natural world and the activities that depend on it (like swimming and tourism) are important to water users and people in general. Often times, the hard path, by not returning enough water to the natural world, harms other water users downstream.
  • The soft path recognizes the complexities of water economics, including the power of economies of scope. An economy of scope exists when a combined decision-making process would allow specific services to be delivered at a lower cost than would result from separate decision-making.

The California drought is an example of the large and growing gap between a state’s water use and the available water supply – and how more sustainable use and soft path solutions can make the difference.

Salton Sea

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March 2013

By Pacific Institute Staff

California’s Salton Sea is a fertile oasis in the hostile desert of southeastern California, adopted by millions of birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway. Yet the Sea is beset by a host of challenges, including a declining water supply, rising salinity, very high levels of nutrients that generate excessive algal growth and very low oxygen levels, and, most worrisome of all, general indifference – if not outright hostility – from state and federal decision-makers, most of whom think the Sea and its problems will simply disappear if they continue to ignore it.

The Sea defies easy description, challenging preconceptions about conservation priorities. It is a heavily human-altered landscape and often smells from the overabundance of life and death it hosts – traits that make it difficult to embrace and champion. Agricultural drainage water, laden with the fertilizers applied to fields, has created a tremendously productive ecosystem at the Sea. Fish and invertebrates swim through its turbid waters and dig through its rich sediments, feeding enormous numbers of pelicans, cormorants, skimmers, herons, egrets, rails, and other birds. In all, more than 400 species of birds – the second highest bird count in the country – have been spotted at the Sea and its environs.

The scale of the Sea adds to the difficulty of finding a viable solution to its problems. The Salton Sea has the largest surface area of any lake in California, yet is barely 45 feet at its deepest point. More than a million acre-feet of water flow into the Sea each year, but less than the amount that evaporates from its broad surface. Since 2005, the surface elevation of the Sea has fallen by about a half foot per year, exposing thousands of acres of former lakebed to the desert’s blowing winds. Salinity at the Sea now exceeds 50 g/L – a third saltier than the ocean. And salinity continues to rise.

Legislation enabling the 2003 water transfer agreement required the state to develop a restoration plan. This plan, delivered to the legislature in 2007, carried a $9 billion price tag and was effectively shelved by the legislators. Unfortunately, the legislature, concerned by limited budgets and skeptical of local stakeholders, has taken very little action since then. State agencies charged with developing long-term restoration plans have failed to do so, instead spending tens of millions of dollars on consultants and new studies, but have yet to build an acre of habitat at the Salton Sea.

The Pacific Institute has played an active role at the Sea for almost 19 years. We have produced three leading reports on the Sea, including the September 2014 Hazard’s Toll, outlining the importance of the Sea and the likely consequences of failing to act on its behalf. We have developed restoration concepts for the Sea, participated on the state’s Salton Sea Advisory Committee, and continue to work actively with state agencies and local stakeholders to get real habitat constructed on the ground to benefit at-risk species and to diminish the amount of dust blowing off of exposed lakebed. Meanwhile, we continue to promote the importance of the Sea as a bellwether of water transfer impacts and the importance of California’s remaining wetlands.

Learn more about the Salton Sea here. View current information on the Salton Sea, including the status of restoration projects, here

 

 

 

Recognizing the Human Right to Water

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Nearly a billion people in the developing world lack safe drinking water – a necessity most in the developed world take for granted. About 2.5 billion people live without access to adequate sanitation systems necessary for reducing debilitating water-related diseases. The failure of the international aid community, nations, and local organizations to satisfy these basic human needs has led to substantial, unnecessary, and preventable human suffering.

The Pacific Institute has long argued that access to a basic water requirement is a fundamental human right implicitly and explicitly supported by international law, declarations, and State practice, and the United Nations now agrees. Governments, international aid agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local communities should work to provide all humans with a basic water requirement – and to guarantee that water as a human right. By acknowledging a human right to water and expressing the willingness to meet this right for those currently deprived of it, the water community would have a useful tool for addressing one of the most fundamental failures of 20th century development.

 

 

 

Peak Water

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Freshwater resources are fundamental for maintaining human health, agricultural production, and economic activity as well as critical ecosystem functions. As populations and economies grow, new constraints on water resources are appearing, raising questions about limits to water availability. Such resource questions are not new. The specter of “peak oil” – a peaking and then decline in oil production – has long been predicted and debated. Real limits on water are far more worrisome, and far more difficult to evaluate, than limits on traditional nonrenewable resources such as petroleum. Water is fundamental for ecosystem health and for economic productivity, and for many uses it has no substitutes.

The Pacific Institute has developed and defined three concepts of “peak water”: peak renewable water, peak nonrenewable water, and peak ecological water.

  • Peak renewable water applies where flow constraints limit total water availability over time.
  • Peak nonrenewable water is observable in groundwater systems where production rates substantially exceed natural recharge rates and where overpumping or contamination leads to a peak of production followed by a decline, similar to more traditional peak-oil curves.
  • Peak “ecological” water is defined as the point beyond which the total costs of ecological disruptions and damages exceed the total value provided by human use of that water.

Despite uncertainties in quantifying many of these costs and benefits in consistent ways, more and more watersheds appear to have already passed the point of peak water. Applying these concepts can help shift the way freshwater resources are managed toward more productive, equitable, efficient, and sustainable use.

The California drought is an example of the large and growing gap between the state’s water use and the available water supply – and how more sustainable use can make the difference.

Desalination and Alternative Supplies

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Traditionally, freshwater has come from rivers, lakes, streams, and groundwater aquifers. As demand increases and climate change alters the location and timing of water supply, these traditional sources are becoming unavailable, more difficult, or increasingly expensive to develop. As a result, many communities are switching to alternative sources of water, including rainwater, stormwater, greywater, reclaimed water, and brackish and seawater desalination.

Alternative water supplies can reduce pressure on traditional water sources, and, in some cases, increase the availability of existing supplies for other uses (such as the environment). They can also help diversify the water supply portfolio and improve reliability. Some alternatives, such as rainwater, stormwater, and greywater, are produced and accessed locally, which can reduce energy use and treatment and transmission costs. Others, such as desalination and reclaimed water, may have relatively high treatment costs, although their supply may be reliable even in times of drought.

The Pacific Institute has conducted innovative research in several areas related to alternative supplies. In 2006, we published Desalination, With a Grain of Salt, a comprehensive overview of the advantages and disadvantages of seawater desalination that has proven to be a key tool used by policy makers, regulatory agencies, local communities, and environmental groups considering the merits and challenges of desalination. In 2012, the Institute launched a series of research reports that identify key outstanding issues that must be addressed before additional proposals for new seawater desalination in California are approved. Some of the issues include the marine impacts of seawater desalination, the cost and financing of proposed projects, and energy requirements and their greenhouse gas implications. The Pacific Institute has also conducted research on greywater reuse and how it can be a key strategy that reduces demand on existing supplies.

These alternative water supplies are an integral part of the current and future water supply, and their use must be managed with full understanding of their costs and impacts. The Pacific Institute continues to produce new and innovative research reports that will help engage and inform stakeholders interested in ensuring future supply using these non-traditional resources. Our research examines the way these sources are developed and their potential impacts, while making recommendations to improve policy and decision-making.

Business and the Human Right to Water

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Expectations for businesses to respect and in some cases help fulfill internationally recognized human rights have increased over the past decade. In turn, businesses also recognize how important appropriate management systems are in order to respond to these expectations and to protect core resources needed in their own business practices.

Several initiatives, including the UN Global Compact, the UN Guiding Principles, and the UN “Protect, Respect, Remedy” Framework for Business and Human Rights, have given businesses key frameworks to meet these expectations. The UN Global Compact, a voluntary initiative launched in July 2000, is a “leadership platform for the development, implementation, and disclosure of responsible and sustainable corporate policies and practices.”  It calls on companies to commit to aligning their business strategies and operations with ten universally accepted principles; the first two deal specifically with human rights.

In June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council formally endorsed the UN Guiding Principles for the implementation of the UN “Protect, Respect, Remedy” Framework. Together, the UN Guiding Principles and the “Protect, Respect, Remedy” Framework are the authoritative reference points for business and human rights on how to address and prevent business-related human rights impacts. In the same year, the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council agreed to resolutions affirming the human right to water and sanitation (HRWS) as a right equal to all other human rights.

These developments, along with companies’ awareness of the risks associated with the growing water crisis, have led to the realization amongst companies of the increasing importance for businesses to align their practices with the human right to water and sanitation, particularly as it is key to meeting broader corporate water stewardship goals. They also recognize that this is an evolving and complex area that is often not well understood by businesses and that could therefore benefit from greater exploration.

Realizing this need early on, the UN CEO Water Mandate established water and human rights as one of its core workstreams. Over the course of the Mandate’s working conferences, the Mandate Secretariat has brought together international experts to help contextualize and share the latest thinking around what respecting the human right to water means in practice for states and for businesses. However, concrete guidance is still needed. Going forwards, the Pacific Institute and the Mandate are pursuing work to provide practical insights on how companies, focusing on large water users, can best meet their responsibility to respect the HRWS taking into account their existing corporate water stewardship practices.

Read the CEO Water Mandate’s Bringing a Human Rights Lens to Corporate Water Stewardship.

 

Water Quality

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Surface water and groundwater are not always static in their natural reservoirs. The water particles are always moving either vertically, laterally, or a combination of both through the banks and bottom of the reservoirs. Through the process of movement, the water interacts with different geologic environments that result in the dissolution of some minerals and transportation of non-dissolvable solids. The addition of these dissolved minerals and solids changes the quality of water from one point to another. The cause of water quality variation can be classified as follows:

  • Addition of freshwater from precipitation into existing water bodies
  • Dissolution of minerals in geologic media
  • Erosion resulting from run-off and other sources
  • Mining activities that release heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, etc.
  • Farming activities that include the use of organic and inorganic fertilizers
  • Poor sanitation around water environments
  • Industrial sources such as releases of gas fumes from factories, cars, and tanning and leather work, etc.

Our work on water quality issues aims to educate communities and individuals to safeguard water quality through:

  • Action-based research
  • Release of tools and technologies to improve water quality
  • Community empowerment through knowledge sharing and training using research results
  • Capacity building of governments and local government staff and water professionals

Water Privatization

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By Pacific Institute Staff

In the past two decades, water privatization — turning over some or all of the assets or operations of a public system to a private company — has been growing rapidly, as has concern and opposition to privatization. The Pacific Institute has been a leader in evaluating, reviewing, and assessing the complex advantages and disadvantages of these strategies. While privatization can offer certain benefits under certain circumstances, there are also considerable risks to the public interest, to water resources systems, and to the environment that require strong government oversight.

To help improve this oversight, our water and privatization work has developed a set of standards to guide privatization and public/private agreements. Described by the Financial Times Global Water Report as “The Pacific Institute Principles,” these principles are described in detail in The New Economy of Water and call for: protecting public ownership of water rights, including marginalized communities in decision-making, taking into account the impacts on downstream communities and the environment, and ensuring that water quality is protected.

The Pacific Institute has also conducted reviews of the experience of specific privatization efforts or arrangements around the world, from Stockton, California, to Manila, the Philippines, to cities in Africa. The Institute’s research suggests that privatization is not the bright line dividing success and failure in municipal water systems. Privatization or public-private partnerships can play a role in bringing water services to those without or improving service in areas that need capital investment. But, we must ensure that any agreements don’t undercut the public interest, harm the environment or lock municipalities into unfair and unsafe deals.

 

 

Alliance for Water Stewardship

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Solving water challenges worldwide cannot be achieved through policy responses alone. Indeed, complementary sustainability strategies rely on economic tools (i.e., market-based instruments) that incentivize voluntary improvements in practice.

The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is building such a tool to be launched in 2013 to promote and reward sustainable use of water. AWS is helping to drive collective responses to shared water risk through a multi-stakeholder-developed international standard based on four outcomes:

  • Good water governance;
  • Improved water balance;
  • Improved water quality, and;
  • Protection of important water-related areas.

The AWS standard is designed to give companies and water service providers a systematic and verifiable way to assess their own water practices and related impacts on the surrounding catchment, and communicate such issues with stakeholders. By voluntarily implementing the standard, businesses and water service providers will be better able to manage their water risks, whether those risks are physical, regulatory, or reputational. The standard system will also help to drive innovation and efficiency gains, while improving the standard users’ relationships with stakeholders, who may include investors, financiers, buyers, communities, regulators, or consumers.

The standard is designed to be used primarily by businesses and water service providers who are significant water users, and is equally applicable to industry and agriculture. While much of the motivation for adopting the standard has come from large corporations that recognize the need to address their water risks, it is being designed to also be applicable to small- and medium-sized enterprises.

The Pacific Institute is a co-founder of the Alliance for Water Stewardship and serves as one of AWS’s ten board organizations, in addition to:

  • Carbon Disclosure Project
  • CEO Water Mandate
  • European Water Partnership
  • International Water Management Institute
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • Water Environment Federation
  • Water Stewardship Australia
  • WWF International

Notes from the Field: What We Know about Indonesian Urban Residents, Water Utilities, Local Government Agencies and NGOs at the Beginning of Our Third Year Developing WASH SMS

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By Misha Hutchings, Senior Research Associate

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. – Henry Ford.

December marked the beginning of year three in the development of the WASH SMS platform through our pilot project in Indonesia. The Institute and our partners Nexleaf Analytics and PATTIRO have been developing two Indonesia WATER SMS systems in Makassar, South Sulawesi and Malang, East Java along with the many stakeholders in urban water governance – customers, poor residents without service, utilities, local government agencies, NGOs and media. In a time when basic mobile phone mapping web sites can pop up overnight, our participatory development process has at times felt drawn out, especially to some of the residents who are experiencing urgent issues such as two-month water shortages and want their grievances redressed immediately.

Over the past few weeks PATTIRO staff brought all the stakeholders together in each pilot location for final Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues. The first Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues in early 2012 were focused on ensuring that the target users understood the basic functionality of the system; and sharing information about urgent issues and needs for the system among all the stakeholders gathered during community learning sessions and formal stakeholder focus group discussions with the water utility, the informal water sector, local government, and NGOS working on related issues. The second round of dialogues sought to compile user experience feedback following months of system testing, as well as to forge agreements among the groups about what users will submit, and to what issues they will respond.  Each group presented their user experiences, listened to each other’s challenges and questions, and offered solutions for meeting each other’s needs.

This system is turning out to be unique due in great part to the participatory development process we’re using. The Indonesia WATER SMS system, being developed by and for utility customers, poor residents without service, utilities, local government agencies, NGOs and media, will assist each one of these groups in improving water services by opening up transparent channels of communication so that residents, utilities, and everyone else involved are better and more quickly informed. It makes sense that a system that aims to facilitate communication and information sharing between different groups should be designed with the needs and preferences of those groups in mind. But it is easy to forget that in order to involve every one of these groups, it requires a lot of coordination and time. Entering our third year is another reminder of just how much work and time they’ve put into this system.

In the first multi-stakeholder dialogue, we were elated by the thoughtful dialogue and interactions between groups that could’ve been communicating prior to these sessions, but weren’t; this was major progress. Then, there were several months where the utility and residents asked “But when?”, anxious to begin using their systems, and we had to remind them and ourselves that the testing allows us to “Fail fast, fail early, fail often”, as the saying goes, and that we should continue to do so until the system is ready. Now, after another round of thoughtful and engaging in-person dialogues a year later, we are in higher spirits about the work they’ve been doing and will continue to do, together, and what that means for the future of the system. If they are still incredibly invested in working with each other to make this system as useful as it can be, then that in itself is success.

Sustainable Water Management

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Water is life. Growing pressure on water resources – from population and economic growth, climate change, pollution, and other challenges – has major impacts on our social, economic, and environmental well-being. Many of our most important aquifers are being over-pumped, causing widespread declines in groundwater levels. Major rivers – including the Colorado River in the western United States and the Yellow River in China – no longer reach the sea in most years. The California drought is exacerbating the large and growing gap between the state’s water use and the available water supply. Half of the world’s wetlands have been lost to development. The world’s water is increasingly becoming degraded in quality, threatening the health of people and ecosystems and increasing the cost of treatment. Some 780 million people around the globe still lack access to clean water and thousands perish daily for lack of it.

The world’s water problems stem from our failure to meet basic human needs, ineffective or inappropriate institutions and management, and our inability to balance human needs with the needs of the natural world. These maladies are rooted in a wasteful use of water, characterized by poor management systems, improper economic incentives, underinvestment, failure to apply existing technologies, and an antiquated mindset focused almost exclusively on developing new supplies – to the exclusion of “soft path” conservation and efficiency measures.

Since our founding in 1987, the Pacific Institute has worked to identify challenges facing our water resources and find solutions – solutions that promote the sustainable management of water resources, in California and around the world. Our research brings attention to key issues that have often been overlooked: the impact of climate change on water, water as a basic human right, the importance of conservation and efficiency, the role of water in conflict, the globalization and privatization of water, threats to the world’s water, and more.

Underlying all of the Pacific Institute’s work is the belief that a new approach to the way we plan, manage, and use water is urgently needed. The good news is that we are making progress. We have focused water policymakers at all levels to look at the risks of climate change on water supply. Our push toward a reevaluation of the importance of water-use conservation and efficiency is leading to fundamental changes in water policy in the western United States and around the world. The work continues, because more needs to be done – much more. The most important change we can make is in the way we think about, value, and manage our water.

Corporate Water Stewardship

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Companies around the world increasingly recognize the risk that water scarcity, pollution, and weak water governance have to their core business. They are beginning to acknowledge the need to manage water as a key input to production and better address the ways in which their water use and wastewater discharge can affect nearby ecosystems and communities. Indeed, some companies have already felt the effects of the global water crisis on their business, whether it be by losing their license to operate due to inequitable or unsustainable practices, stalling operations due to a lack of water or the failure of water-dependent energy sources, or a variety of other water-related business challenges. Furthermore, investors, government agencies, and NGOs all have increased expectations for corporate sustainability around water issues. Perhaps even more importantly to business, consumers are increasingly considering companies’ water sustainability performance in their purchasing decisions.

Corporate water stewardship is an approach that allows companies to identify and manage water-related business risks, understand and mitigate their adverse impacts on ecosystems and communities, and contribute to and help enable more sustainable management of shared freshwater resources. Stewardship is rooted in the concept that robust and effective public water governance is critical to the long-term business viability of water-intensive industries and that companies can play a role in helping to achieve this end. As such, stewardship approaches result in companies improving water efficiency within their own operations, encouraging good practice throughout their supply chain, and collaborating with others to advance sustainable water management.

Corporate Water Stewardship Tools

Water and Poverty

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By Pacific Institute Staff

It is everyone’s wish to be able to wake up each day and turn on a tap that provides a safe, constant source of drinking water, but this does not happen in the lives of nearly one billion people who live without access to potable water. With no option, they rely on polluted surface and groundwater sources which are also the main sources of water-related disease such as diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, and worm infection. Infectious, water-related illness can keep victims out of work for long periods of time, prevent school attendance, and even result in death: UNICEF reported that about 4,500 children die every day from preventable, water-related diseases. Lack of access to potable water can also impact income, education, and safety, where women and children trek tens of kilometers one or several times a day in search of water.

Climate change is also impacting the economic stability of vulnerable communities that rely on water for their livelihoods. Under current climatic conditions, irregular rainfall patterns are straining farms and communities that rely on rain-fed agriculture for food. There is either too much rainfall in a short period resulting in flood and loss of property, or too little rainfall resulting in drought and famine.

In these myriad ways, water is directly linked to poverty – making access to water a means to ending poverty.

 

Water-Energy Nexus

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Throughout the 20th century, the connections between water and energy were largely ignored. Water systems were designed and constructed with the assumption that energy would be cheap and abundant. Likewise, energy systems were developed with the assumption that water would be cheap and abundant. And while some have long argued that we would reach peak energy and more recently, peak water, assumptions about abundance were the status quo.

The era of abundance is coming to an end and is being replaced by the era of limits. Conflicts between energy production and water availability are on the rise, even in areas not traditionally associated with water-supply constraints. Additionally, rising energy costs and concerns about greenhouse gas emissions are forcing some water managers to seek ways optimize the energy efficiency of their water systems and reduce overall water use.

The Pacific Institute conducts research on various facets of the water-energy nexus to better understand the barriers and opportunities for integration and to develop tools to promote integrated water and energy policy and decision-making. Nearly twenty years ago, Dr. Peter Gleick developed water use factors for various forms of electricity – numbers that are still used today. The 2004 study Energy Down the Drainco-authored by the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, was among the earliest reports to quantify the energy requirements for water systems in California. The 2011 study, Water for Energy: Future Water Needs for Electricity in the Intermountain West, examined the water requirements for current and future electricity generation within the Intermountain West and identified strategies to reduce water-energy conflicts in the region. Our Water-Energy Calculator (WECalc) helps residents understand their household water use and associated energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, with strategies to save both water and energy. The Water-Energy Simulator (WESim) is a free Excel-based model that allows water managers to evaluate the energy and greenhouse gas implications of their water management decisions.

 

 

Sustainable Water Management – Local to Global

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Water is life. Growing pressure on water resources – from population and economic growth, climate change, pollution, and other challenges – has major impacts on our social, economic, and environmental well-being. Many of our most important aquifers are being over-pumped, causing widespread declines in groundwater levels. Major rivers – including the Colorado River in the western United States and the Yellow River in China – no longer reach the sea in most years. The California drought is exacerbating the large and growing gap between the state’s water use and the available water supply. Half of the world’s wetlands have been lost to development. The world’s water is increasingly becoming degraded in quality, threatening the health of people and ecosystems and increasing the cost of treatment. Some 780 million people around the globe still lack access to clean water and thousands perish daily for lack of it.

The world’s water problems stem from our failure to meet basic human needs, ineffective or inappropriate institutions and management, and our inability to balance human needs with the needs of the natural world. These maladies are rooted in a wasteful use of water, characterized by poor management systems, improper economic incentives, underinvestment, failure to apply existing technologies, and an antiquated mindset focused almost exclusively on developing new supplies – to the exclusion of “soft path” conservation and efficiency measures.

Since our founding in 1987, the Pacific Institute has worked to identify challenges facing our water resources and find solutions – solutions that promote the sustainable management of water resources, in California and around the world. Our research brings attention to key issues that have often been overlooked: the impact of climate change on water, water as a basic human right, the importance of conservation and efficiency, the role of water in conflict, the globalization and privatization of water, threats to the world’s water, and more.

Underlying all of the Pacific Institute’s work is the belief that a new approach to the way we plan, manage, and use water is urgently needed. The good news is that we are making progress. We have focused water policymakers at all levels to look at the risks of climate change on water supply. Our push toward a reevaluation of the importance of water-use conservation and efficiency is leading to fundamental changes in water policy in the western United States and around the world. The work continues, because more needs to be done – much more. The most important change we can make is in the way we think about, value, and manage our water.

Environmental Health and Justice

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Who profits from our use of environmental resources? Who suffers the consequences of pollution and environmental degradation? Creating and sustaining healthy and thriving neighborhood environments is a challenge, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, who carry disproportionate environmental burdens. Issues from access to safe water and sanitation, air quality, access to open space, employment opportunities, healthy food, and more are issues of both environment and of justice. Decisions from where to build a dam to where build a wastewater treatment plant to the siting of toxic facilities, truck routes, and liquor stores – and who is at the table where the decisions are made – are matters of environmental health and justice.

The Pacific Institute partners with community-based organizations and coalitions both in the U.S. and abroad to build community power to create and sustain healthy and thriving neighborhood environments. Building the community power to self-determine the environment they live in is the most effective and sustainable way to create solutions to environmental, economic, and health disparities. Bringing community voices to the decision-making process is necessary to ensure that all communities have access to environmental benefits.

 

 

Empowering People and Communities

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Fundamental needs for environmental health, including safe water and sanitation, justice, and sustainability in poor and low-income communities around the world are not being met because of underinvestment, poor investment decisions, inappropriate technologies, ineffective systems of operation and maintenance, poor governance, and the failure to involve local residents in the decision-making process. Community empowerment is needed not only for involving communities in decision-making, but also implies community ownership, advocacy, and action that explicitly aim to achieve social and political change.

We believe that communities around the world have the right to excellent research support and that a participatory research process can support many aspects of community organizing and advocacy campaigns to achieve access to basic needs, healthy environments, a thriving economy, and social justice. To this end we work with underserved or voiceless communities – such as indigenous communities, slum residents, and rural villages unreached by government services – whose challenges go unrecognized, lack institutional support, and traditionally have little or no access to information and tools to support collective action.

Throughout the United States and around the world, we work in partnership with community-based organizations, coalitions, and NGOs to develop appropriate and innovative tools, customized trainings, and new sources of information that enable and empower communities to gain control over the factors and decisions that shape their lives.

 

 

Notes from the Field: Mobile Phones Within Reach

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By Misha Hutchings, Senior Research Associate

Due to their ubiquity in low- and lower-middle income countries, mobile phones are being used throughout the developing world to connect the poor with a range of information and services that can transform their lives: education, election polling information, peer-group (mental health) support, health services, disaster relief, and micro-banking. Indonesia is ranked fifth in the world for number of mobile phone subscribers with over 260 million in 2011 (1) —almost the entire population, including men and women in every socio-economic level—even while 46.1 percent of the population lives on $2 USD per day or less (2).It is hard to imagine how a person living on one or two dollars per day can own and maintain a mobile phone.

Rosyid awaiting customers in his shop where he sells secondhand mobile phones, handpon bekas, at prices the poor in Malang can afford.
Source: Misha Hutchings

In the United States a person usually acquires a new phone through a service provider at a reduced cost, as an upgrade from an old phone, or even free, in exchange for signing a long-term contract. Or, a person can pay outright for a new phone. Secondhand phones are often exchanged between friends and family, purchased online through sellers of refurbished phones, or tucked into the family “obsolete gadget” drawer. But the market for recycling secondhand phones is growing greatly due to the demand for affordable phones in other countries (3).

In Malang, a city of about 820,000 people in East Java, Indonesia, Rosyid sells secondhand mobile phones (Indonesian, handpon bekas) and offers repair services. A community leader and salesman in the sub-district of Blimbing, Rosyid’s priority is to make mobile phones available at prices that people in his community can afford. “In order to buy a new phone, we need a lot of resources to buy a new phone. One new mobile phone can get two or three secondhand phones. That is the issue.” Rosyid repairs phones at the community center in Blimbing, and also has his own, modest storefront for selling the secondhand phones nearer to the city center. He sells all types of mobile phones, including popular QWERTY phones, but the current trend has created a demand for touch screen phones. “Whether we like it or not, we must follow the needs and desires of society.” Two years ago, Rosyid and others in his community recognized an opportunity to increase phone sales and to revitalize the secondhand markets in Malang, which lacked both sellers and shoppers. “We thought about how we can create an atmosphere that can make it busy again,” explained Rosyid. They promoted the market, called ROMA (abbrev. of Indonesian, Rombengan Malam, Night Junk), on television and through media accessible throughout the city, and after one month the market was filled with sellers of high-quality secondhand mobile phones and other goods. Now, every night sellers line the sidewalks on Jalan Jenderal Gatot Subroto, and prospective buyers stroll past looking for deals.

 

References: (1) Research and Markets. 2012. “Indonesia – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts”. Accessed on September 5, 2012: http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/28e8bf/ (2) World Bank. 2010. Data: Poverty headcount ratio at $2 a day (PPP) (% of population). Accessed September 5, 2012: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.2DAY/countries/1W-ID?display=default (3) Goodman, D. 2006. “Used phones drive Third World wireless boom”. MSNBC, October 29. Accessed September 5, 2012: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15434609/ns/technology_and_science-wireless/t/used-phones-drive-third-world-wireless-boom/#.UEdPcNZlQyo

Notes from the Field: Resident Says He Would Use Information from Community Choices for Water Tool to Be an Agent of Change

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By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

Jean Zoundiis a 51-year-old man from Bissighin, a community located in the Commune of Saaba, which is about 25 km East of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. When I learned that the village was 22 km away from the Burkinabe Capital, I thought there was no need to go there to treat water since there would be running water. To my surprise, Mr. Zoundiled me to a pond that over 600 people depend on for drinking and other domestic purposes (see photo).

This pond is where the people of Bissighin access water.

When asked if households treat their water after transporting it from the pond, Mr. Zoundiresponded, “In a large family of ten people, how much boiling can one do to get enough clean water for use? Where is the firewood to do that, and who has time to do that? We normally use filter cloth but sometimes we just drink directly from the pond not knowing what the quality is.” He went on to say that almost everyone in their community suffers from guinea-worm infection at least 1-3 times per year. He showed me the scars on his leg where guinea-worms were extracted.

Having heard of Community Choices for Water (CCW) and what it could do, Mr. Zoundiwas anxious to test the usefulness of the tool. After walking him through the CCW, he selected a Biosand filter out of five possible solutions recommended by the CCW. Mr. Zoundihad the Biosand filter installed and then assembled the whole community to educate them on the technology. He has promised to bring change to the community within a month by installing Biosand filters for everyone, provided the households in Bissighin purchase the Veronica bucket (Biosand sand mold) and obtain the necessary accessories.

The Human Right to Water

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By Pacific Institute Staff

The human right to water is the fundamental right to life, health, and livelihood. The imperatives to meet basic human water needs are more than just moral, they are rooted in justice and law and the responsibilities of individuals and governments.

In September 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a binding resolution affirming the human right to both safe drinking water and sanitation, a milestone on an issue the Pacific Institute has worked on for over a decade. The Institute has been an early and vocal proponent for the human right to water, arguing that access to clean drinking water is a fundamental human right supported by international law, declarations, and state practices, beginning in 1996 with our work on basic human needs for water and continuing with  the release of our report The Human Right to WaterOur work was cited in the UN’s right-to-water document, General Comment 15.

The acknowledgement of a human right to water encourages the international community and individual governments to renew efforts to meet basic human needs for water for their populations and focuses the spotlight on the deplorable state of water management in many parts of the world, from Africa to central California. Our work, for example, has highlighted populations, even in the United States, who still do not have access to affordable, safe drinking water. It also helps focus attention on the need to more widely address international watershed disputes and to resolve conflicts over the use of shared water. Acknowledging this right applies pressure to translate it into specific national and international legal obligations and responsibilities, and helps set specific priorities for water policy – which is too often fragmented, uncoordinated, and focused on providing more water for some people, rather than some water for all people. It makes clear that meeting a basic water requirement for all humans to satisfy this right should take precedence over other water management and investment decisions.

Our work going forward will include development of appropriate tools and mechanisms to achieve progressively the full realization of the human right to water, including appropriate legislation, comprehensive plans and strategies for the water sector, and financial approaches – with full transparency of the planning and implementation process and meaningful participation of the concerned local communities and relevant stakeholders.

Notes from the Field: Pilot Testing the Community Choices for Water in Ghana

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By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

Over the past 12 months, the Pacific Institute – in partnership with its West Africa partners NewEnergy, World Vision, Rural Aid, Pronet North, and Water and Sanitation for Africa – has been conducting learning sessions to develop the Community Choices decision support tool to help communities and NGOs make informed decisions for  their water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges. The internet-based prototype includes many field-proven technologies and is designed to empower water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) professionals and communities to choose technologies based on their responses to a set of questions that reflect cultural, socio-economic, hydrological, and religious factors. (more…)

Notes from the Field: Gofal Sahi Gets Excited with Community Choices for Water

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By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

 “When you arrived from Wa at our community, we thought you were another group coming to deceive us,” said Ms. Barakisu Yusuf. Though Gofal Sahi community has received several promises of a borehole, the government officials have never returned to fulfill the promises. She added, “We never knew we could ever get clean water in our community.”

Pictured Above: Ms. Barakisu Yusuf of the Gofal Sahi community drawing clean water from Biosand filter.

Ms. Barakisu has been staying in the community for several years but has never had the opportunity to taste clean water. Through a pilot test of our Community Choices for Water tool, Ms. Barakisu and nine other women constructed Biosand filters using locally available plastic containers, river sand, and gravel. “I am really so excited that this clean water is coming from my Biosand filter,” she said.  Choosing the Biosand filter from the many water treatment technologies recommended by the Pacific Institute’s computer-based Community Choices for Water tool Barakisu thinks is helpful because they would not spend any money to maintain the filter and yet their frequency of visiting the hospital and paying medical bills will be minimized. The photo above shows the clean water Ms. Barakisu is drawing from her locally made Biosand filter. She promised to be an agent of change by passing the knowledge of water treatment technologies available, especially the Biosand filter, to other people.

During the rainy season, Gofal Sahi is cut off from every part of the region and the river water becomes so turbid that even filtering it is not easy. The community members who have installed the Biosand filters were worried that the technology would not function very effectively during the rainy season. However, their fears were allayed when the community was taken through the maintenance procedures of the filters.

Notes from the Field: Household Water Treatment Could Improve or Maintain Access to Water Coverage

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By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

I heard the good news from the Director of Water and Sanitation for Africa, Mr. Idrissa Doucoure, at a sustainability framework workshop in Acrra, Ghana, on April 3, 2012: Ghana had achieved its Millennium Development Goal for water supply. But, Mr. Idrissa was quick to add that a high percentage of water coverage and access to an “improved source” of water today did not mean that the goal of “sustainable access to safe drinking water” has been met for the years ahead.

Pictured Above: Zouzugu water storage tank

A week after the workshop, on my way from Cheshei to Tamale in Northern Ghana I spotted a water tanker delivering water at Zouzugu, a rural community about 15 Km south of Tamale. Zouzugu is a rural community near Tamale and had an elevated tank (see photo below) that was supposed to store water from the main Tamale water supply network for the community to use.

Unfortunately, the community receives water once a week for few couple of hours with very low pressure that is not enough to push water up into the tank. Sometimes there is no water flow at all in the community for several weeks. The tanker service (see photo above) has now become the most reliable water supply source for the community. The tanker sources polluted water from a local pond.

Pictured Above: Water supply form tanker service
 

Interestingly, community members are willing to pay 1 Ghana Cedi for a 50 gallon-drum and 10 Ghana pesewas for a 20 liter container locally referred to as “Gariwa.” A lady in the community (anonymous) said, “The water is not clean and we have to filter and drink.” When asked if filtering with a cloth was enough to make the water clean, she said, “We have no knowledge of other technologies except boiling which is time consuming and expensive considering the fact that there is no firewood in our community.” I recalled Mr. Doucoure’s message as I realized that Zouzugu is part of the statistic that shows that Ghana has achieved the MDG for water supply, even though the community clearly does not have access to sustainable potable water supply.

Pictured Above: Unclean water from tanker in Zouzugu

Similarly, in some suburbs of Accra, Ghana’s capital, there are many spots where water tanks display the inscription “water for sale” (see photo below). The owners of these tanks buy water from tanker service providers and store it for re-sale to their community. Community members go to them with jerry cans and buckets to purchase water. Regarding the water quality, one of the vendors who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “We believe the water is clean, but as to whether that is true or not, we have no way to prove.” Even if the water from the tanker is clean, contamination could occur in the process of transferring water from the tankers into the water tanks or during the transport of water to individual homes using open containers.

From these stories it became clear that “access” to water supply and coverage may reduce if the water facility is dysfunctional. Because the technical and institutional reasons for non-functioning are beyond the scope of community members, access to knowledge of affordable household water treatment could improve or maintain the statistics – and reality – of access to potable water coverage.

Pictured Above: Water vending spot in Ashaley Botwe, Accra

Cadiz Groundwater Plan

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Imagine a lake half as large as Lake Tahoe, containing 17 million to 34 million acre-feet of water. That is what lies under the Cadiz and Bristol valleys in the Eastern Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County. Cadiz Inc., a privately held company, owns 34,000 acres that overlie this vast groundwater basin. The company plans to extract 2.5 million acre-feet of the water, a public good, over the next 50 years and sell it back to the public at a profit.

This project raises several concerns, some of which are directly related to the project while others point to the need for a public debate and discussion about California’s groundwater laws.

Here are some facts about the project: Cadiz is proposing to extract on average 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater from the basin each year for 50 years. The intended rate of extraction of groundwater is significantly greater than the estimated natural recharge rate (the speed that groundwater is refilled naturally by rain and snow) of 5,000-32,000 acre-feet a year, which will lead to unsustainable mining of groundwater during the life of the project. The groundwater will go into a 43-mile-long pipeline to transport it to the Colorado River Aqueduct, where it will be distributed to several water utilities in Southern California.

Cadiz claims that the project will facilitate the beneficial use of groundwater that would otherwise naturally drain toward Bristol and Cadiz dry lakes (ephemeral lakes) and be “lost” to evaporation at the lakes and to transpiration by plants in the adjoining valleys. But the project proponents’ characterization of the water lost to evaporation and transpiration as non-beneficial is inaccurate. Some of the water that flows to the dry lakes and evaporates from the basin supports survival of local desert ecosystems, which depend upon the ability of groundwater reaching the surface; therefore, removal of this water would adversely affect these ecosystems.

The bottom line is that the project relies on unsustainable mining of groundwater, designed to extract groundwater at a rate exceeding natural recharge. In other words, it uses water in excess of the estimates of the water lost to evaporation, which is both a nonrenewable use of water and unsustainable in the long term.

According to the draft environmental impact report, the project will deplete groundwater storage in the valleys by 1 million to 2 million acre-feet. It will take from 50 to several hundred years for the basin to recover and refill after the project is terminated. If in that period the recharge rate decreases considerably or the evaporation rate increases under a long-term drought or more permanent climatic changes, then the long-term deleterious effects of the project might be even more significant and the recovery period much longer, if ever. Cadiz will make its profit for 50 years, and the public will be left to handle possible negative environmental and ecological consequences of this project for years to come.

Beyond the unsustainable nature of the Cadiz proposition, this project highlights serious shortcomings with California’s groundwater law. Imagine if one of the landowners adjacent to Lake Tahoe decided to take water from the lake and sell it for personal, short-term economic gain. That may sound crazy, and yet the state’s groundwater is the same resource.

The Cadiz project, if approved by San Bernardino County, would set a precedent for future privatization of groundwater in other desert basins. This calls for a broader public policy debate and discussion of state groundwater policy – or lack thereof.

We question that mining groundwater for short-term private gain is what an informed public would like to do with precious groundwater stored in the desert. The fact that the decision is left to San Bernardino County indicates the broader need for clear state policy to manage groundwater resources and a revision of groundwater laws.

John Bredehoeft, formerly with the U.S. Geological Survey, formed the Hydrodynamics Group, a Sausalito consulting firm.

Newsha Ajami, a hydrologist specializing in sustainable water resource management, is a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute in Oakland.

Notes from the Field: Pilot Testing the Community Choices for Water in Ghana and Burkina Faso

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By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

After 12 months of conducting learning sessions in Ghana and Burkina Faso to develop the Community Choices for Water (CCW) tool, an alpha version of the tool has been tested in Cheshei community. The Pacific Institute and NewEnergy field staff tested the tool in the community between March 19 and 29 to examine how households could be empowered with knowledge of water treatment technologies to solve their acute water shortage challenges that compel them to drink unclean water. (more…)

Notes from the Field: Alpha Version of Community Choices for Water Decision-Support System to be Piloted in Ghana

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By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

Over the last year, the Pacific Institute has been conducting learning sessions in Ghana and Burkina Faso in the development and dissemination of a decision-support system to empower communities and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) practitioners to make informed choices on WASH technologies and approaches. I facilitated nine learning sessions to understand the key needs of residents, NGOs, and local governments in Ghana and Burkina Faso, and on the role that a decision-support tool could play in improving water (more…)

Notes from the Field: Multiple Use of Water Allows Disabled Man to Live Comfortably

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By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

Abdulai Ibrahim lost his leg during an accident several years ago. Like many disabled persons in Ghana, Mr. Ibrahim could have been forced to beg on the street or depend on his extended family members for support. Instead, he opted to fend for himself through an innovative multiple use of water system.

Pictured Above: Mr. Abdulai Ibrahim standing in front of the stand pipes

Mr. Ibrahim, 40 years old, pictured below is a member of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) committee in Bulenga, a community located in the Wa East District of the Upper West Region of Ghana.  Bulenga community has a mechanized well that supplies water to an elevated tank where water flows out under gravity to 4 stand pipes at a central point.  In order to collect a small fee to cover operation and maintenance cost, Mr. Ibrahim was tasked by the community and the WASH committee to be at the pipe stands to collect the money as people fetch the water.  “Out of the money I collect each day, I am given GHC 2/day (two-Ghana cedis/day, US$1=GHC1.45)”. This works out to GHC 60/month which is the average salary an unskilled worker earns/month.

Having sat down to reflect  on what could be done with the extra water that overflows from the taps during the process of fetching, Mr. Ibrahim collected the waste water into a sump (see picture below) that he uses for gardening. He claims he makes GHC 5 per market day sales which come every 3 days. From his total earnings, he is likely to make GHC 110 per month.  Asked if there was anything he thought could be conveyed to the world, he responded that “let others know that we can eradicate poverty using the waste water from the water source”. Besides as a disabled man, “I don’t rely on any extended family member for my daily bread”.

Pictured Above: Mr. Abdulai Ibrahim standing in front of his garden

Notes from the Field: Waterways

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by Meena Palaniappan, Program Director

In parts of Indonesia, waterways are used to wash clothes, bathe, deposit litter, and sometimes used as a toilet.

Indonesia is a beautiful place full of people with ready smiles. It is a democratic country with a rich cultural history. Given it is identified as one of the rising Southeast Asian economies, I was excited to see the state of water here. While our Indonesia WATER SMS Project is working on water services, a long time passion of mine has been urban waterways. I’ve always looked at urban waterways as the soul of a city. They are the reasons that human settlements emerged, and can be such a focal point of an urban area. What stories would waterways in Indonesian cities tell?

Sadly, it was all too similar to what can be seen in India, Africa, and Central America. It always amazes me that so many of the waterways running through cities are running sewers. A site that could be such a source of beauty is often polluted and littered beyond recognition. In India, Indonesia and in many places, the poorest communities, who often don’t have adequate water and sanitation services, can be found living next to waterways. The water is used to wash clothes, bathe or deposit litter, and the waterway is sometimes used as a toilet. What could be high value “river-front” property (!) is instead the smelliest, dirtiest part of the city. My hope is that one day in Jakarta, Malang, Chennai, Mumbai and cities across the world, buildings can face towards the water and people can find recreation along the banks of waterways. Wouldn’t it be amazing if waterways that at one time created reasons for people to build cities, could once again become the soul of the city?

Notes from the Field: Sustainability of Supply: The Story of Community Water Associations (HIPPAMs) in Malang

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by Meena Palaniappan, Program Director

Imagine if the water you were being supplied with regularly to your home suddenly began drying up? For hundreds of households dependent on community-run drinking water user associations (Indonesian, HIPPAM) in Malang, this is a new reality. As more and more water users directly access the resource, water availability is shifting, and the lack of a comprehensive water management strategy for the region has left many communities high and dry.

HIPPAMs are common throughout Malang, and supply about 20 percent of households in the city. These HIPPAMs began in response to the lack of municipally supplied water by the city’s water utility, PDAM Kota Malang. The water utility was not supplying water to these communities either because it was an outlying or difficult to reach area, or because the cost of water from PDAM Kota Malang was perceived to be too high.

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New HIPPAM leader who advocated again through the local budgeting process to drill a bore well in the community that could supply water to the hundreds of households without access.

The first and newest HIPPAM we visited was led by a charismatic leader who along with the locality leader advocated again and again through the local budgeting process to drill a bore well in the community that could supply water to the hundreds of households without access. Finally, after six years, the Public Works department approved the project and provided a loan and equipment to drill the bore well. The water from this bore well now supplies several hundred households in the community. The community was lucky to tap into a rich underground resource that required no pump to bring to the surface. They have an abundance of water supply, and no energy costs, and are in the enviable position of being able to provide water for free to members of the community who don’t have the ability to pay for water. This HIPPAM is kind of like the nouveau water riche.

Meanwhile in other parts of the city, other older HIPPAMs are struggling with providing water services. In the community of Wonokoyo, a 20-year-old HIPPAM has been seeing the drying up of their four water sources. Residents complain of not enough water to meet basic needs for sanitation. The community has requested that PDAM Kota Malang begin providing water services here, and are still awaiting this service. In another 20-year –old HIPPAM, the water managers have received external funds to increase their pumping of the groundwater that they rely on. When they reached a water crisis of not enough water nearly a decade ago, they received funds from an external donor to buy a new machine to increase water withdrawals from deep underground. Another HIPPAM has struggled since its inception with finding an adequate water source, and constantly having its water source dry up. People in this community complain bitterly about the lack of reliable water from the HIPPAM.

One of the things that struck me about the struggles of these HIPPAMs was the way in which there was very little attention to protecting the sustainability of the supply of water. Once a bore well was drilled, it was pumped until dry. Paying attention to the sustainability of supply would have meant a better assessment of the natural recharge rate of the aquifer on which the community depended, developing a system to percolate water into the ground to recharge the aquifer, and ensuring that water extraction was sustainable over the long term.

To me, the story of HIPPAMs in Malang also perfectly outlined the issue of Peak Water. Peter Gleick and I have written about the issue of Peak Water, and how despite its weaknesses as a theoretical construct it sends some important signals in the water sector. As I’ve always said, the concept of Peak Water reminds us that the age of cheap, easy-to-access water is over (similar to what Peak Oil has meant for oil). This means that to get the same water we’ve always depended on we will need to go further (more distant water sources), and pay more (stronger and more expensive pumps) to get the same water.

What further complicates this Peak Water story is the way in which this is a cascading Peak Water effect, with each water user (HIPPAMs and PDAM Kota Malang and households) directly accessing and draining the water supply, which in turn affects the water available to other water users. This makes planning for water supply more difficult as the water used by each water user affects the amount that remains for others. Malang has a particularly interesting situation in that significant water suppliers in the city are the numerous community water associations. HIPPAMs along with PDAM Kota Malang all depend upon what is fundamentally the same resource, yet have no information about the state of the water source, or how much the other user is using.

One of the goals of the Indonesia WATER SMS System will be to make visible these invisible linkages and connections in the water system so that there is more knowledge on the state of urban water resources: how much water there is, who is using it and how much, and what the quality is. WATER SMS will create information in a zero information urban water environment. The ultimate goal of this information shared among multiple sources will be to assist all of these water managers in better planning in the face of increasing water insecurity.