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In meeting Western water challenges, collaboration is key

At the recent Business of Water summit in Phoenix, 150 leaders from American business, government, and water agencies convened to share sustainable water strategies in the face of diminishing supply.

The ongoing challenge is a 15-year drought gripping much of the Southwest which has affected every aspect of water management in the Colorado River basin, from agriculture to municipal drinking water to keeping rivers flowing for wildlife.  The call to action is clear: the Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people, and generates $1.4 trillion of economic value for the seven states that use its water, in addition to driving an outdoor recreation economy and overall quality of life in the Southwest. 

{mosads}The summit, the third convened by corporate water stewardship networks Protect the Flows and Change the Course, placed a spotlight on the companies leading the way by reducing water footprints, engaging customers and employees in water saving actions, and restoring watersheds. Attendees were witness to the remarkable innovation business is bringing to water use, re-use and recycling, banking and trading, investment and financing solutions — all aimed at balancing demand for water with existing and projected supplies.

General Electric , Intel, MillerCoors, REI and others are investing millions of dollars in updating technologies and process changes that often result in 15 to 50 percent water use reductions, while at the same time improving the bottom line.

GE recently partnered with MWH Global and Goldman Sachs on creative financing models promoting water reuse globally. GE also took the steps to manage its own water footprint and has reduced operational water usage by 42 percent from a 2006 baseline. The company has surpassed its initial goal, achieving a 25 percent reduction, and it’s still making progress.

Semi-conductor giant Intel spent $150 million expanding a water recycling plant in Chandler, Arizona that treats millions of gallons of industrial water a day – recycling about 60 percent of Intel’s manufacturing water to an underground aquifer in the process.

Companies know great achievements do not happen in isolation. To succeed at doing more with less, it takes collaboration and a focus on systematically removing barriers and encouraging smart applications.

Fortunately, water issues have gained traction at the national level, with President Obama personally engaged on the pressing challenges of drought relief and water resiliency. The White House hosted a water symposium on March 22, World Water Day, to explore water resource demands and issued an aggressive Presidential Memorandum with an action plan to combat the ongoing western drought, directing federal agencies to coordinate water management and conservation programs on the ground; enhance data collection; monitor and improve communication among federal agencies, state officials, water providers and the public.

The Memorandum calls for collaboration between the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, combining Reclamation’s ability to finance projects and NRCS’s ability to work with farmers, and resulting in more efficient use of water supplies and taxpayer dollars.   

In addition, the Department of the Interior created the Natural Resource Investment Center to tap private-sector capacities and ingenuity in water markets and financing. The new center will pursue market-based tools and public-private collaboration to conserve natural resources, enhance water allocation, and promote investment in critical infrastructure. These are the kind of creative, cost-effective ideas the business community can both generate and support.

As populations and economies grow, and climate change brings hotter, dryer conditions to the West, government, water managers, NGOs, the public, and business – from our farms to our factories – must be at the table. As we discussed in Phoenix at the Summit, bringing the innovation and efficiencies of American business to the process can only mean good things for the sustainability and reliability of our nation’s water resources.

Freedman is Global Partnerships and Government Affairs Leader for GE Water & Process Technologies. He monitors and shapes domestic and international water policies and helps GE Power & Water develop technology collaborations with government entities. Tartre is Director of Corporate Partnerships for Protect the Flows (PTF), a non-partisan business coalition advancing water conservation, innovations and technologies, and protection of the Colorado River. PTF is a network of over 1,100 businesses that depend upon and support a healthy and thriving Colorado River system for the economic vitality it provides. Members of PTF range from main street retailers to Fortune 500 companies, all of which support timely, common-sense solutions to the water challenges facing the Southwest.

The views expressed on the Congress Blog are the author’s own and not the views of The Hill.


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