New Report Highlights Pathways and Barriers to Corporate Water Stewardship in the Colorado River Basin
- Water resilience in the Colorado River Basin will require contributions from all sectors.
- Corporations can play an important role in enhancing water resilience through initiatives in their operations and supply chains, by educating consumers, and by co-funding innovative projects.
- Several barriers currently hinder corporations from scaling up their positive water impact.
- This report highlights actions corporations can take to make a meaningful impact on water stewardship in the Colorado River Basin states and other water stressed regions globally.
On October 24th, the Pacific Institute released Pathways and Barriers to Corporate Water Stewardship in the Colorado River Basin. Written by Dr. Christine Curtis, Cora Snyder, and Michael Cohen and based on 20 interviews with corporate and non-corporate stakeholders, the report highlights opportunities to scale corporate investment and build long-term resilience in the beleaguered basin. It also highlights critical challenges to such efforts and examples of methods to overcome them.
The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American West. It supports 30 Native American tribes and farms, cities, and ecosystems in seven US states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming—and the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora. But the river is in crisis. The combination of a crippling drought that began 24 years ago, the historic over-allocation of the river’s declining runoff, and climate change have exacerbated a structural deficit—where more water leaves the system than enters it.
Water resilience in the Colorado River Basin will require contributions from all sectors. These efforts must be strategic, coordinated, and amplified to tackle the Basin’s challenges effectively. Corporations can play an important role through their operations and supply chains, by educating consumers, and by co-funding innovative projects. While a subset of leading companies is pursuing Corporate Water Stewardship (CWS) in the Basin, the corporate effort must be scaled considerably to meet the magnitude of the water crisis at hand.
Our new report sheds light on the many challenges, opportunities, and potential strategies to foster water resilience in the Basin. It builds on our previous efforts, including Joining Forces: Innovative Co-Funding to Enhance Corporate Water Stewardship Impact in the Colorado River Basin, and complements ongoing state and federal efforts to foster basin resilience.
- All corporate interviewees have set volumetric targets to restore or otherwise return water to the Colorado River Basin. Most, but not all, prioritize the Basin for CWS projects. Yet the majority of non-corporate interviewees do not perceive CWS projects as being influential in addressing Basin challenges to date, indicating a disconnect between corporate ambitions and perceived impact.
- Corporate interviewees cited limited internal capacity and insufficient data as major barriers to advancing CWS in the Basin. Corporations typically invest in on-the-ground projects late in the process, when quantifiable benefits are more assured, despite needs for investment and support earlier in the planning process. Additionally, competing priorities between economic development and sustainable water management are a challenge.
- Most corporate interviewees noted that they are funding efforts to return water to the Colorado River basin, though the criteria for such investments could be refined. While many are improving water management within their facilities, more information could be shared with the public about specific actions they are taking. Some also stated that they are developing innovative products and services to address water challenges. About half use their brand to raise awareness about sustainable water policies. Notably, only one reported engaging in supply chain water management. There is considerable opportunity to expand CWS into corporate supply chains, particularly in agriculture, which accounts for about 80% of water consumption in the Basin.
Corporations employ several methods to address water challenges in the Basin. These include funding on-the-ground water projects, improving water management in their own operations, leveraging their brand to raise awareness about water challenges, and developing innovative products and services. Approaches that could have greater corporate adoption include using corporate brands to advocate for sustainable water policies and improving water management within supply chains. CWS practices in the Colorado River basin are still relatively nascent. Corporations encounter numerous barriers to having positive water impact at scale, including limited internal resources for CWS programs, limited information to assess water-related risks and inform decision-making, narrow criteria for selecting and funding on-the-ground projects, and uncertainty about how to engage in advocacy for sustainable water policies. These findings are informing our efforts and the efforts of our partners to advance CWS projects, initiatives, and approaches in the Basin. Beyond the Basin, these findings can inform how corporations can better contribute to positive water outcomes in water-stressed regions around the world.
Drawing on information from the interviews and from other analyses, our report offers a series of recommendations. These include investing in on-the-ground projects, improving water management within corporate facilities, leveraging brands to raise awareness, developing innovative products and services, leveraging brands to advocate sustainable water services, and supply chain water management. For a comprehensive list and discussion of these recommendations, please refer to the full report.
This report provides a high-level overview of the status of CWS in the Colorado River Basin, the challenges it faces, and its potential to help address Basin challenges. Driven by extensive stakeholder insights, the report charts a course for corporations to make a meaningful impact on water stewardship in the Colorado River Basin states and other water stressed regions globally.
Despite the brief reprieve provided by last winter’s exceptional snowpack, we still need all hands on deck, from everyone who depends on Colorado River water, to lean in and help get the system into balance.