Assessing Water Vulnerability for Proactive Planning

Assessing Water Vulnerability for Proactive Planning

For manufacturing companies, both the quantity and quality of water available are essential components of a business plan or strategy. Many find themselves, with the changing climate, in the position of operating with a more limited supply of water than has historically been available to them, and others simply want to build environmental awareness and their corporate commitment to sustainability. Either way, a water vulnerability assessment is an essential step in formulating a plan for understanding, prioritizing and mitigating risks that could threaten the amount of water available or the characteristics of your supply. Public utilities can also use these assessments with a bit different goal of evaluating the risk of terrorism or vandalism, but their most common use is informing industrial facility owners about managing the water resources available to them.

Multi-faceted approach to identifying risks

Water vulnerability assessments are typically conducted using a multi-stage process. These six areas represent the key considerations in determining potential threats to water quality or quantity for most of the industrial clients we work with.

  • Watershed — When assessing the watershed, we look at the area contributing to a water supply. Considerations during this phase include a watershed’s climate, the average rainfall in the area, and typical evapotransirative losses. The watershed phase of assessment also looks at land use and environmental sites that could impact the quality of a water source, such as Superfund sites, environmental cleanup sites,  mining operations, or certain types of agricultural operations. This phase of the assessment also includes looking at competing uses for the water supply occurring within the watershed. Finally, the likelihood of natural disasters and the severity and frequency at which they might occur are analyzed for their potential to impact supply.
  • Supply Reliability — Determining whether you have a reliable method of getting water from the source to your facility is essential for evaluating both quality and quantity concerns. For instance, if the infrastructure responsible for storing and carrying water are old or in disrepair, that could threaten their ability to get the necessary amount of water where it needs to go, as well as introduce potential detriments to water quality through leaks or breaks in a pipe.
  • Efficiency — This phase of the assessment process is especially important to many of our clients because it has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. Since every drop of water used must be paid for, we look at water usage and loss inside the facility  that may be increasing costs, as well as working to determine whether an engineering solution may help decrease overall water usage. For instance, some of our clients have switched from water rinsing to air rinsing as a measure to save water. The goal in this area is to look for ways where water can be managed more effectively, which might include innovating methods that reuse water in certain processes without affecting the quality of the final product.
  • Supply Economics — Related to the efficiency phase, this stage of the assessment takes into account the general costs associated with obtaining water from a particular water source. While in general it costs less to use less, factors other than simple usage come into play when considering costs as well. For example, if the water supply you are drawing on happens to have low quality water, your costs may increase due to the higher level of treatment that will be necessary prior to use in products. Additionally, if a water source’s quantity is low, utilities might raise prices for drawing on that supply.
  • Compliance — Different states and municipalities each have their own unique set of guidelines and regulations regarding usage. These could be simple reporting requirements, drought restrictions, or wastewater discharge limits, all of which you need to remain compliant with. If your facility does not meet applicable regulations, strategies for achieving compliance can be discussed at this stage of the assessment.
  • Social & Competitive Influences — An essential phase of these assessments, this stage includes identifying local competitors for water use and gaining an understanding of the political factors at play within a facility’s surrounding community. This is especially important given the drastic effects our changing climate has had on states across the country. One thing for manufacturers to keep in mind is that the largest water users in a community are almost always the first to come under scrutiny during times of water scarcity. Public perception plays a role in many cases.  Sometimes the public may perceive that a certain facility is a heavy water user when, in fact, they may not even be in the top tier of water users in a community.  So addressing inefficiencies and finding ways to reuse water and communicating these successes to a larger audience within the community are great proactive measures facilities can take to build a reputation as an environmentally responsible organization.

Putting mitigation measures in place proactively is crucial, especially in matters that can influence public opinion. It’s more difficult to undo a negative judgment than to foster a positive one. Whether you’re developing a new process, opening a new facility, or just looking for a way to get ahead of any water-related risks, working with a consultant to conduct a water vulnerability assessment is a great place to start.

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