Where is the Water Transaction?
By Natasha Léger


Water is called many things, by many people and cultures. To some, it is the blood of the planet,
or the blood of life; to others it is the most precious resource; to businesses it is an input and a source for discharge. Water tells stories of evolution through drought and floods. Water conducts electricity and stores heat. Water is in constant motion. It washes away and carries toxins and disease. Water is both information and transportation. It connects people in many different ways, whether they know it or not.

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If the health of water is related to the overall health of the planet, and to that of each of us as human beings, then it is about time we start understanding the role of water in our lives and how we as businesses and societies can ensure the security of this precious resource.

The role of water in the supply chain:

→ Food can’t be grown without water. Drought and climate change are starting to force changes in agricultural supply around the world.

→ Energy can’t be produced without water. Water is needed in every energy extraction and production process from coal mining to hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

→ Silicon chips that power the consumer electronic industry and digital services can’t be produced without water.

→ Precious metals that support the world’s manufacturing base, from industrial equipment to airplanes to rockets and spacecraft can’t be mined without water.

→ Soft drinks like Coca-cola and Pepsi can’t be produced without water.

→ Lifestyle activities like golf and cruises cannot be pursued without water.

→ Modern cities would not exist without water and wastewater management.

→ Cooling buildings and running nuclear plants is impossible without water.


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And the list goes on… Water is everything. Every time water is used, whether in manufacturing or mining processes, transporting or disposing of waste, transporting ships and barges, irrigating for crops, or extracting oil and gas…a water transaction takes place. According to Carla Johnson, CEO Earthvisionz, LLC, “neural networks of sensors are used in wells, across waterways and water systems to monitor their health, such as temperature, pH, salinity, microbes, contaminants, and water levels. It is essential to our survival that we make the protection of our waters priority #1 while we continue to transact in the world. We are currently killing the longterm viability of our water resources and they will not recover for many lifetimes.”

The value of the water transaction to businesses increases when water is at risk, such as from scarcity or pollutants. The lack of water or quality of water directly impacts the quality of a product. The $290 billion semiconductor industry requires pure water to manufacture silicon chips. Producing pure water requires an extremely sophisticated water treatment facility, and managing production costs requires a state of the art water conservation facility with sensors throughout the system to indicate any problems.


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The $100 billion+ global beer industry depends on high quality water to produce the right tasting beer. SABMiller is faced with operational, reputational and regulatory risks to the business based on water quantity and quality concerns in various countries, as a result of climate change, water scarcity, competition for water resources, unsustainable land use upstream, as well as the social dimensions of water use and their interactions with industry.1 What used to be topics for environmental studies or international relations majors in college are now big business issues, and they are all location-based.

Location technologies allow companies to see the interconnections and synergies between risks, how their operations and supply chains connect with other stakeholders and users, and where opportunities and solutions may lie. See “Satellite Missions Improve Water Estimates” in the Spring 2013 issue of Apogeo Spatial, and “Satellite Data will be Essential to Future of Groundwater, Flood and Drought Management” in Sensors & Systems for the role of satellite imagery in managing water resources.


Footnote:
1. Kissinger, G., A. Brasser, and L. Gross, 2013. Scoping study. Reducing Risk: Landscape Approaches to Sustainable Sourcing. Washington, DC. Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative.