Time to stop taking water for granted

Every day in recent months, the water level in our local lake has been dropping. The ducks have less and less water to swim in and find their food. As the water recedes it exposes smelly black mud (for want of a better word), it’s probably rotting vegetation. Usually, the lake is fed from a nearby river but the level in that is low too. Some say this is because of abstraction further upstream.

We’re lucky, our lake is essentially ornamental. Our lives don’t depend on it. But it does make you think about other people in other parts of the world who are watching their own water supplies dwindle. They might be in poor countries, desperate for drinking water or they might be in rich countries, reliant on water flows from glaciers to drive their hydro-electric power plants.

We hear endlessly about emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The accusing finger is pointed at man and his works. We are expected (quite rightly) to live more in harmony with our environment. But you don’t hear much about water. Not compared with the noise around GHGs, anyway.

Yet, if there’s to be any balance in environmental discussions, they should include pollution of the air, land and water. They should also include the abstraction and use of raw materials, one of which is water. Anyone who pollutes or abstracts clean water should be held to account. And, if it’s taken from an aquifer it should be regarded in a more serious light than if it’s taken from recent rainfall.

Three cheers then for an announcement from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) that it is to extend its remit to water. The project is called CDP Water Disclosure. It will operate on similar lines to the CDP which gets major companies to report their carbon and related emissions.

Because of rising populations, increasing urbanisation, demand for more ’things’ and, yes, climate changes, pressure on remaining water supplies is growing. It’s not like GHGs which, because they become part of the earth’s atmosphere, can be regarded as a global problem. Water problems are local in their impact, although their causes can often be laid at the doors of multinational organisations. Just as air pollution can be outsourced to China, for example, so can water consumption.

The point of the project, as with CDP before it, is to get companies to declare and monitor their evolving position. This alone should motivate them to take positive action. If not, they can expect pressure from their investors and other stakeholders.

It’s not going to be easy. Compared with this, monitoring GHG emissions was a walk in the park. We are going to need to look down our supply chains in detail to figure out what we’re responsible for, although I dare say that companies like Trucost (I’m speculating here) will come up with some realistic ’rule of thumb’ measures.

CDP is working with a variety of organisations to establish effective standards. It has published a comprehensive report of its ambitions and plans, if you’re interested in learning more.

Any reader of this blog is likely to be in possession of all manner of gizmos (from cars to computers), each of which required gallons of water to create. We’re very conscious of waste, we’re fairly conscious of carbon, but we probably don’t think about water that much.

Perhaps it’s time we started.

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