Humanity is facing a tipping point: the moment where our consumption of water starts to outstrip all the available water on earth. Unless we do something about it, experts predict that demand will exceed supply by 40 per cent by the end of the decade.
Water stewardship is the name given to the collective management of water resources across regional, national, cultural and sectoral boundaries. It is when private and public organizations work together with communities to protect water sources and make sure everyone gets their fair share.
Backed by the United Nations, the principles of water stewardship are covered by an independent, international framework.
For businesses, meaningful action to preserve resources at a watershed level can improve their own long-term financial viability as well the ongoing sustainability of communities.
In this blog, we take a closer look at water stewardship, who is doing it well and how businesses can get started.
What does stewardship of water resources include? Some definitions
The impacts of climate change and population growth on our water supplies are global and local, and they affect people in different ways.
To understand the idea of water stewardship, it helps to understand some other important concepts, such as river basin, watershed, water equity and water positivity.
A river basin is usually a large area of land where all the water drains into a large river which leads to the sea. They frequently cross regional or national boundaries, meaning that actions taken in one part of a river basin can have significant impacts downstream in another, where people have less influence. An example is the GERD dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, which has forced downstream Egypt to find extra water from elsewhere.
Some of the world’s most stressed river basins are in places you might not expect, like the south of England. The United Nations has identified the world’s top 100 priority river basins and is actively calling on stakeholders there to work together on action plans.
Water impacts can also be localised in smaller parts of the river basin due to specific circumstances in a particular watershed. A watershed is an area of land that drains to a smaller stream, lake or wetland. There are many smaller watersheds within a river basin. An example might be the presence of a high water-use business in an area with high levels of leakage in a public water pipeline network.
Water stewardship centres on understanding, managing and planning water use efficiently across an entire watershed. At its heart are responsible business practices, multi-stakeholder collaboration and the concept of water equity.
Water equity is where all water users in a watershed get access to safe and affordable water and sanitation services, and no-one is left behind. The US Water Alliance goes even further, adding that all people should also benefit from the opportunities of water infrastructure investment, and are resilient in the face of a changing climate.
By overseeing the efficient use of water in their own operations and providing leadership and support to others, responsible businesses can help reduce stress on local water environments and make sure that everyone gets the water they need in a fair way.
Water positivity takes water stewardship a step further. This is where a business commits to collaborative action which has the net effect of returning more water to a watershed than the business takes out itself.
What is in a water stewardship plan?
Water stewardship is set of practices for understanding and addressing business water risks and impacts in a watershed, and the promotion of sustainable water management.
A water stewardship plan usually revolves around minimising water consumption and reducing wastage, such as leakage, by using new technologies and best practices, and communicating with, supporting and educating others on the problem and their own role in solving it.
For businesses, this can mean developing socially equitable processes to track and improve the use, handling, and disposal of water in its operations, as well as partnerships with other organisations.
This necessarily involves supporting local efforts to manage water risks and protecting sources of clean drinking water.
As well as being local to the watershed, the results of water stewardship activities must also be measurable and transparently equitable through continuous monitoring and accountability.
By setting a strong example and sharing ideas, technologies and skills with others, businesses not only support their own equitable access to this increasingly limited resource, they also play a major role in local water conservation and help improve environmental sustainability more widely.
The AWS International Water Stewardship Standard
In 2009, a group of charities, NGOs and other organisations founded the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) to standardise best practice.
Nick Hepworth, director of one co-founding organisation, the NGO Water Witness, described the aim. “It’s about going beyond aid to make sure that the globalised economy works for the poor and the environment, rather than causing harm,” he said.
The AWS’ International Water Stewardship Standard incorporates multi-stakeholder dialogue and pilots of new techniques. It is now the accepted global framework for major water users who want to improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for all through healthier watersheds.
Businesses, NGOs and the public sector who sign-up to the AWS Standard, commit to working with other catchment stakeholders in using water in a way which is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial.
They also commit to gathering and using water data when setting targets at both site and watershed level, and to submitting to independent audits of performance.
Certified sites are published on the AWS website, which is updated weekly. A growing number of high-profile companies, including Nestlé and Coca-Cola, have thrown their weight behind the standard both to promote responsible water usage throughout their supply chains and to support local stakeholders with their own water governance.
The CEO Water Mandate
Separately to the AWS, the United Nations initiated the CEO Water Mandate to encourage more business leaders to collaborate through water stewardship to tackle the global water crisis.
Like the AWS Standard, signatories commit to action and annual reporting. There are six key areas of action covering:
Setting measurable targets for water conservation, quality monitoring, waste-water treatment, and recycling using new technologies and best practice approaches.
Supply chain and watershed management
Showing leadership and sharing expertise in water sustainability assessment and practice to help suppliers mitigate and reduce their own impact.
Collaboratively sharing ideas, expertise, capacities and resources with other stakeholders, especially corporate skills and resources for change management, technology adoption and robust performance reporting.
Advocating for water sustainability and integrated water resource management in global and local policy discussions, through existing and new partnerships with governments, civil society and other stakeholders.
Playing an active role in community education and communications campaigns, and partnering with public authorities and their suppliers to pilot innovation and support the provision of adequate local water and sanitation systems.
Transparency: Disclosing regular quantifiable and measurable progress against the expectations of a wide group of stakeholders to build trust and show accountability.
What are the water stewardship outcomes?
According to the World Economic Forum, water crises are featuring more regularly among the top five global risks in terms of impact.
Water stewardship helps ensure that businesses not only manage their own risks but also promote long-term water security for all.
By reducing water consumption, driving innovation and engaging others, businesses can improve local aquatic environments and help ensure everyone has access to resilient and affordable water and sanitation services.
There is also a strong argument that water stewardship leads to water-related opportunities for companies, allowing them to create more resilient operations and suppliers, save money and promote workplace productivity.
For leading global organisations like Microsoft, water management is seen as such a critical issue for operations like data center cooling. The company has made a commitment to become water positive by 2030, investing more than $7 million in replenishment projects around the world since 2019.
Being able to make credible claims about water stewardship and sustainability practices can help protect a company’s license to operate, increase investor confidence, improve brand value and strengthen customer relationships.
For the environment, responsible use of water can ensure that important aquatic ecosystems remain healthy, particularly when it comes to water balance.
For water companies, good water stewardship, particularly on driving down leakage, reduces risks to drinking water supplies and delivers significant savings on the energy costs associated with producing water.
For communities, more water equity means more access to safe, affordable water and sanitation services.
How can FIDO Plus help you with water stewardship improvements?
FIDO Plus aligns corporations looking to meet water replenishment goals with public water utilities in stressed watersheds to bring about immediate, quantifiable improvements using the power of actionable AI.
It uses the water sector’s most sophisticated AI, FIDO AI, which has the unique ability to spot, size and accurately locate leaks on any pipeline network.
Reducing leaks is increasingly seen as the most cost-effective way for utilities to find ‘extra’ water.
By combining remote sensing with big data analytics and expert operational resource as part of a long-term partnership, FIDO Plus enables data-led assessment, collective action, improved watershed management and transparent, provable results.
Our first 10-year partnership launched with Microsoft and Thames Water in 2023 and involves reducing leakage on 350 kilometres of public water network in London, UK.
We have worked with LimnoTech, a leader in volumetric water benefit accounting, on an auditable methodology to estimate and then communicate quantified water savings.
FIDO AI’s accurate, real-time information helps to inform proactive leak management strategies in regions facing drought or shortage issues.
It also enables organisations to make better-informed decisions based on outcomes and spot and assess critical incidents, so that preventative measures can be undertaken quickly if the need arises.
Innovative technologies like AI can have a significant impact on water stewardship outcomes in an era of data-driven decision making, especially for water networks without existing digital capabilities.
Effective disruptive tech adoption is hard for resource-challenged utilities to achieve alone. But with FIDO Plus, as part of a collaborative effort involving corporations and other stakeholders, public utilities can easily deploy and get the benefits of disruptive FIDO AI risk-free.
How FIDO Plus works
After establishing water loss baseline with a local utility we deploy FIDO AI on pipeline networks of any length, material, diameter or digital maturity to instantly find and rank all leaks by size; providing the exact location of all large leaks for priority repair.
We then validate each dig repair to give quantitative, transparent and auditable results, demonstrating immediate impact.
Continual monitoring as part of a long-term plan ensures leakage remains low. The ongoing visibility of how leaks are changing and occurring in the network allows for FIDO AI to deliver trends for proactive planning.
For more information on any of FIDO’s solutions contact us today.