Industries around the world are beginning to understand the important role that water plays in production and profitability. Water resources are under stress from a number of factors, including climate change, contamination, regulation and growing demand. Water can no longer be taken for granted.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released a report entitled "The Changing Value of Water to the U.S. Economy: Implications from Five Industrial Sectors." Developed by the consulting firm CH2M Hill, the report is part of an EPA study on the importance of water to the U.S. economy.
The report examines the critical role water plays in industrial production and the U.S. economy, and how the value of water is changing in five industrial sectors: semiconductor manufacturing, thermal power generation, mining, chemicals, and oil and gas.
The report includes case studies on how Intel, Rio Tinto, Dow Chemical, Chesapeake Energy and Southern Company engage in water policy decisions, assess and report on water use, and are improving water process efficiency to derive the maximum value from the water they use.
Although water's influence on corporate decisions and the use of water varies across sectors, the industries examined face some common challenges and opportunities in managing water resources and ensuring the availability of water for their operations.
They see increasing competition for water and, as a result, show an increasing awareness of water usage. Industry leaders are concerned about the potential for business disruption because of changes in the volume or quality of water available, and are taking steps to increase water efficiency and plan for contingencies.
Industries are adopting best practices to maximize their water resources. Steps include reducing the amount of water used in their processes, enhanced monitoring and automated control of water usage, and increased reliance on water reuse. They are also partnering with local governments to insure their water supply.
In one case study included in the report, Intel is spending more than $200 million on public infrastructure, including water and wastewater facilities, at its operations in Ocotillo, Ariz., and has partnered with the nearby City of Chandler to implement water use technologies that benefit both the company and the local community. Today, Intel uses 1.25 to 1.5 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of ultrapure water, down from almost 2 gallons in the recent past.
Dow Chemical Company has also made the connection between climate change and water risk and has developed a number of water management strategies, including implementing advanced water-cooling technology in 2010 that helped the company save 1 billion gallons of water and $4 million annually.
Dow is also reducing fresh water use by partnering with a neighboring wastewater utility in Freeport, Texas, to use municipal effluent for operations, and is developing a reservoir to create a more reliable water supply for both the company and local residents.
To read EPA's report on the importance of water to the US economy, and six other related papers that were commissioned by EPA, visit the agency's website: water.epa.gov/action/importanceofwater/index.cfm.