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Managing water use in scarce environments

By Anders Berntell

The growing gap between safe freshwater supply and water demand is forcing the world to tackle the issue from a new and more collaborative perspective. It calls for cooperation between the government to provide appropriate policies and regulations, the private sector to provide innovation and technology, and civil society to provide inputs from the users.

During the first week of September, thousands of water practitioners will gathered in Stockholm for the annual World Water Week. This year’s theme was cooperation, among stakeholders, among countries, among water practitioners... Showcasing the spirit of cooperation, World Water Week marked the launch of “Managing Water Use in Scarce Environments,” a catalog and online tool which was jointly developed by 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) and Arup to showcase 42 projects around the world that have brought together civil society and the public and private sectors to tackle issues related to water scarcity impact.


As we have reported in previous 2030 WRG publications, there is no single water crisis. Different countries and different basins even in the same region face very different problems; therefore, the implementation of solutions to save water can have complex and unintended results. There is no “silver bullet” that will solve all problems. Every basin is different and defining best practices in reducing water demand is a complicated matter.

fetching waterSolving water security issues requires a collaborative approach with open dialogue and knowledge exchange among stakeholders and water practitioners. “Managing Water Use in Scarce Environments” is 2030 WRG’s second collaborative contribution to this dialogue and exchange of expertise. With an aim of catalyzing action, the catalog of 42 case studies shares examples, expertise, advice and innovations in water demand management improvements across key sectors and technologies. It proposes a series of metrics and indicators geared towards policy makers, water resource planners, businesses and industries to bring clarity to the question of “What is water saving?” in agricultural, industrial and municipal sectors.

A true water saving is, of course, one that reduces the consumptive use of water, through reduced evapotranspiration (green water flow), leading to less water going back into the atmosphere, away from the blue water flow in the river basin. Other interventions will eventually only lead to a change in the flow of water in the basin. However, these other interventions could increase the volumes stored in the basin, in lakes, reservoirs or groundwater; increase productivity in agriculture; or reduce water pollution.

The following metrics are used to assess the impact and effectiveness of each intervention:

• Water Scarcity Metrics: reduced withdrawal, reduced consumption, improved water quality, increased productivity and net basin benefit.
• Financial Metrics: capital cost and capital cost confidence levels.
• Estimated Unit Cost of Water: unit cost calculation unit cost metric and unit cost confidence level.

Through this project, a number of observations emerged. While they do not represent a conclusion, they contribute to the debate around water management in scarce conditions. 2030 WRG aims to catalyze debate to improve water management, particularly in water stressed areas. Withdrawals and productive use, net basin effect and  estimated unit cost for intervention are relevant to both the public sector, tasked with the overall management and planning of water resources, and the private sector tasked with implementing a sustainable business model that minimizes both the impact of water risk to the business and the impact of the business on scarce water resource.

The availability of water at the right time, at the right volume and quality, and at the right price is an essential underpinning of economic growth and development. Fundamental to this is water resource planning, demand management, and an understanding of how interventions impact the basin.

These are some key strategic considerations that will help the identification of relevant cost effective interventions:

• Priority should be given to interventions that focus on reducing consumptive use.
• There is a need to develop mechanisms that incentivize reductions in consumptive use.
• The choice of interventions should be based on an understanding of the specific local context and the net effect in the river basin.
• There is a need to standardize data collection and reporting that enables accurate monitoring of impacts on consumptive use, return flows and withdrawals.
• Priority should be given to interventions that deliver the greatest basin level benefit at the lowest unit cost.
• Partnerships between the public and private sector should be encouraged, that enable water risk to be reduced whilst maximizing basin level water scarcity benefits.

With a website launching in the coming days, we hope to stimulate and support action for meaningful interventions through a solutions-based online platform and database. This tool will give users the ability to filter through and better comprehend water scarcity solutions around the world, the approaches used to achieve them and the impacts so far.




Current Issue: Africa Water & Sanitation & Hygiene March-April 2017 Vol.12 No.2