Water-Wise Growth

As the global population booms and demands more freshwater, supply may prove to be a very real impediment to municipal and industrial growth in the coming decades. To help decision-makers better understand human impact on this valuable resource—and thus better manage it—Veolia Water has introduced the Water Impact Index. Here Laurent Auguste shares details with WWD Managing Editor Caitlin Cunningham.

Caitlin Cunningham: How did the Water Impact Index come to be?
Laurent Auguste: The idea really began as a discussion with Kevin Schafer at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD). This discussion started from saying, “We need to simultaneously look at water and carbon, and their economic and environmental impact on water resources.”

So we got involved in studying Milwaukee’s water and wastewater cycle to try and measure all that. We found out that as far as the water part is concerned, there were no tools or solutions readily available. In speaking with our research and development people, we saw we needed to put together something comprehensive—that not only captured the volume aspect of an activity, but also the water quality element and the level of stress on local water resources. This provides a metric by which to assess water.

Cunningham: Please tell us about the research being conducted, and how results might be put to use.
Auguste: What has been done here is looking at the same time at carbon, water impact and economy and then trying to put these three elements to work evaluating some projects—saying “Mr. Mayor or Mr. Kevin Schafer or whoever is in charge: You have got a project or different options in front of you. Usually you look at price. Maybe carbon footprinting will be considered in the future, but you need to think about the impact on water resources right now.”

So now we have got the approach where we can look in a comprehensive manner at these three elements, carbon and water being the main elements as far as environmental impact is concerned. When you start measuring it, you can compare one solution to another, one option to another; you can start looking at how to improve some elements, whether that is a new project or operation.

In Milwaukee, for instance, a lot of things have been done as far as CSO [combined sewer overflow] management is concerned. We know that CSO reduction is supposed to be good as far as the impact on water resources, but how much good is it? How do you measure it?

The Water Impact Index might be an interesting tool for a decision-maker in terms of finalizing the decision but maybe also in communicating it. If you want people to be more aware of water, we need something that makes it easier to comprehend. The index may encourage consumer and larger-scale decisions that are more efficient in terms of water resource management.

Cunningham: What are some highlights from the data collected?
Auguste: You will find some examples in the white paper [see www.veoliawaterna.com/sustainable/water-impact-index/].

We have done a quick comparison of the state of Wisconsin and the state of California, looking at the per capita water extraction. We first found that in Wisconsin the per capita water extraction is higher than in California. But then when you start applying our Water Impact Index calculation, the results are completely different, and obviously the per capita impact in California is much higher. This comes from the fact that the level of stress on water resources in California is always bigger. There is also a lot of energy used in California to move water from north to south. Producing that energy itself requires a lot of water—and again, that water is not always a local resource but one that is being extracted and moved to other parts of California.

As a whole, you can see that it might be interesting to compare states or cities. And it’s not about finger-pointing, it is about knowing the facts. From there, we can start planning and trying to improve things to ensure a sustainable supply. That is really our intention and our final goal—avoiding a water crisis.

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