Exploring Water Risk

By Lauren DeMates.


Water risk is not only in the quantity available but also the quality. It is a complex issue exacerbated by climate change. High water risk locations are on almost every continent including large areas of Northern Africa, Middle-East, and Southern part of the United States (see Aqueduct map below). In the long-term, some localities will be exposed to increased droughts and others will experience increased flooding, both of which affect agriculture and livelihoods. Water risk from climate change imposes more challenges for international organizations and nonprofit organizations that have been working for decades to improve access to water and sanitation in developing countries. The United Nations (UN) suggests that 20-50 litres of water a day is necessary to ensure basic needs for drinking, cooking and cleaning (see UN Water for more global statistics on water). Looking at the private sector, The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Deloitte report that the number of firms reporting detrimental impacts from water risk is continually increasing; industries most exposed are energy, materials, and consumer staples. However, more public and private sector attention to water risk is needed and even organizations already addressing the issue still have a lot of work to do to ensure a standardized and comprehensive approach.

World Resources Institute (WRI)’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s Water Risk Filter, and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)’s Global Water Tool help private and public sectors analyze water risk. They also use different parameters, which makes it difficult to know which parameters are necessary to systematically address the issue. However, revised UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines reconciled terms and reporting requirements in 2014. These tools are still very valuable and provide a deeper understanding of water risk through extensive research.  WRI’s Aqueduct tool offers an interactive GIS map to explore risk for a specific area, industry, and even use custom weights for metrics (indicators in the image below). The tool and data are available free of charge for investors, governments, companies, nonprofit organizations- anyone who wants to understand water risk. Water risk news is accessible as well. Tools are helpful to better understand the complexities of risk, but there is no denying that we need to make investments to adopt more efficient and resilient technologies to reduce water use and minimize risk. Although reducing water use is not a simple fix to a complex issue, it is where companies and households can easily address the issue.

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From WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas (red is the highest level of water risk)


LEED certification system for buildings and almost all corporate social responsibility programs address water use. Reductions in waste, water, and energy are low hanging fruit to demonstrate action and achieve cost savings. The majority of the technologies and efficient appliances that companies use to achieve reductions are available for household use and are not much more expensive than their traditional counterparts. Seek out appliances with the WaterSense label. For an interactive platform of ideas to reduce water use please visit Water Use It Wisely. The site provides categorized tips that make reducing water use easy and fun. We all know the main ways to cut back: take quick showers, don’t let the water run while doing dishes or brushing your teeth, and if there is a leak you should fix it. Yet there are so many more opportunities to save water. We compiled our favorite below, chosen largely from exploring the Water Use It Wisley site.

10 ways to save water that you may not have thought about yet:

  • Save the water from washing fruit and vegetables and use it to water plants
  • Cook food in as little water as possible. Also helps keep in the nutrients
  • Use the garbage disposal sparingly, compost instead. Addresses food waste too
  • Washing clothes in cold water saves water and helps clothes last longer
  • If you need to wait for water to heat up save the water and use it to water plants
  • Re-wear clothes and save your towels to cut down on laundry
  • Dishwashers use less water than washing by hand
  • If you have a pet, wash them outdoors on an area that needs to be watered
  • Use native plants for landscaping
  • Try to use only one water-glass to drink out of each day

Protecting our water bodies, especially watersheds, are also key to maintaining the water we currently enjoy. Watersheds are continually under threat and need protection from run-off and pollution from agricultural and industrial activities (i.e., oil and gas extraction, chemical dumping, pesticides). Millions of people around the world still lack access to clean water. With the effects of climate change creating more vulnerability, protecting the quality and quantity of our water is only becoming more vital.

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