Manage water-related risks – on site and in the watershed
Drought and other water-related risks have threatened the sustainability of South African businesses in recent years, requiring them to take a strategic and systems approach to their water needs and sources.
The good news is that tools are available to guide companies in planning and implementing an effective response to these risks, according to Fiona Sutton, senior consultant with global engineers and scientists SRK Consulting.
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“We are working with our customers to apply the international water management standard, which describes five steps through which companies can implement good water management practices,” said Sutton. “Developed by the highly respected Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), this standard guides the improvement of water performance both on site and in the wider watershed.”
The first step in developing the AWS standard is for site owners to collect and understand all of its relevant water data. Although it takes time, this is perhaps the most important step – as it ensures that the future decisions of the site owner are based on accurate information about the water use at their site and his pelvis.
This will include identifying the water sources from which the site draws, the locations to which it returns its discharges, and the watersheds it relies on – and may affect. For the site itself, data collection will focus on aspects such as water balance, water quality, water flows and storage volumes, and water costs and revenues. .
It should also explore factors related to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and how to create shared value with other stakeholders. This means considering the adequacy of the WASH services available in the watershed – such as the availability of water and toilets – to combat the spread of water-related diseases.
“This lays the foundation for understanding the site’s common water challenges as well as its water-related risks, impacts and opportunities,” she said. “From this starting point, the second step can be taken: engage in water management and develop a water management plan.”
Plan, do, revise
The plan should clarify the mission, vision and goals / targets, where the goals cover key areas of the organization’s sustainable water management, as it pursues good water management in accordance with the AWS standard , as well as the people responsible for it. . It must also include the reporting process to regulatory agencies and other stakeholders in accordance with ESG (environmental, social and governance) obligations, the plan’s measurement and monitoring methods, the actions and deadlines to achieve it and the resources. financial. to be engaged.
“Where possible, it is important to link each goal set to achieving best practice – as this will help address common water challenges and AWS outcomes,” she said. “The plan should demonstrate the company’s responsiveness and resilience to water-related risks, and how its mitigation measures are coordinated with relevant public sector and infrastructure agencies.”
The third step in the process is to implement their plan and the fourth is to assess the company’s performance in this regard. Sutton stressed that the organization’s priority should be to ensure that the actions it takes are sustainable and continuously progress.
“This is where certification against the AWS standard plays an important role, as it provides a systematic framework for tracking progress towards water safety and for correcting the stock price if necessary,” a- she declared.
A vital fifth step is for companies to communicate and disclose the progress of their water management journey. This requires careful engagement, based on a good understanding of the context or environment of the organization – in order for its actions to have the desired impact.
“There is a need to engage with watershed stakeholders in an open and transparent manner – to understand their priorities, share plans and collaborate on solutions,” she said. “This commitment allows an organization to improve its broader understanding of its water use in a watershed, rather than just within the confines of its own site or plant.”
Applying the AWS standard makes it possible to address essentially three types of risk, all of which have financial implications: physical, regulatory and reputational. Considering for a moment the physical risks, these are specific to both the business and the watershed, Sutton said.
Mitigate the risk
“Watershed-specific risks are influenced by local management of water resources and the effectiveness of governance in the face of factors such as increased demand and unpredictability due to climate variability,” he said. she declared. “They are also affected by the adequacy of local infrastructure, the quantities of pollution discharged into water bodies and the resulting quality of available water.”
Business-specific risks can be direct, such as disruptions to site-level operations or supply chains due to water supply issues or poor water quality. They can also be indirect, such as the non-availability of water services to manage ancillary operations such as the evacuation of wastewater via dedicated wastewater networks.
For companies that want their water management systems and efforts to be formally recognized, AWS awards certification to sites that meet its requirements. The AWS process can be facilitated by specially trained practitioners, paving the way for a detailed audit. AWS standard certification is available at three levels: Core, Gold, and Platinum.
“The sites are audited against criteria and indicators by credible third-party assessors, independent of AWS or the site,” Sutton said. “Certified sites can then make credible statements about their water management activities and performance.”
She stressed, however, that organizations should not view the AWS standard as a mere pathway to certification, but rather as a method for achieving results on the ground in water safety for the site and its stakeholders. Organizations should be aware that in the absence of results on the ground, the chances of obtaining certification, even at the grassroots level, are very limited.