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Alliance for Water Stewardship

Q&A with the North America AWS Director

The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is working to develop a voluntary water stewardship program. The program, based on an international water stewardship standard, will define actions that businesses and water users worldwide can and should take to improve the social, environmental and financial sustainability of water use.

Below, Jay Harrod, The Nature Conservancy's communications lead for the North America Freshwater Priority, interviews Lisa Downes, who is heading the Conservancy's involvement in AWS's North American Regional Initiative and is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Jay:

Let's hear your AWS for "dummies" definition.

Lisa:

Basically AWS is a way to recognize and reward large water users, like corporations and utilities, that use water in a sustainable way. The AWS standard under development will be adopted by an internationally recognized organization that is made up of several well recognized and respected partners, including the Conservancy. So when consumers make a purchase, they’ll understand there are real, meaningful environmental benefits behind it.

Jay:

What environmental benefits do we expect to achieve?

Lisa:

We expect AWS certification to result in numerous environmental benefits. These benefits would include improved water quality, improved water flow regimes and protected habitats.

Jay:

Who is your primary audience?

Lisa:

Right now our primary audience consists of large water users. They’re the ones we need feedback from to develop the standard. We want it to be achievable and meaningful. In the long term, we absolutely want to raise awareness among the public. That kind of brand recognition could serve as a key motivating factor for large water users.

Jay:

Outside of recognition for meeting the standard, what are other incentives for large water users?

Lisa:

We hope that AWS-certified water users will recognize financial benefits – be it through enhanced water efficiency or by improving the security of a resource that their business depends on. No one wants to dry up or harm their own water resources.

Jay:

What are your short- and long-term goals?

Lisa:

Our goals initially will be to have water users sign on and test and use the standard. Our long-term goal is to have meaningful impacts in watersheds in the U.S. and Canada. We want to be able to measure actual environmental benefits that result from this program.

Jay:

How has the reception among companies been so far?

Lisa:

So far there has been a lot of excitement from our partners – corporations, utilities and other non-profit organizations. People realize the time is right for this type of program to be developed. There is interest in making AWS "the" international water standard so that there’s not competing efforts or confusion from other programs. People are excited about having the opportunity to shape the international standard from the ground up.

Jay:

What is key to the success of AWS?

Lisa:

To be successful, the standard will need input from a variety of users and stakeholders, particularly from each region. One aspect of water use that is somewhat unique is that the impacts associated with water use are very local – environmental impacts are very local. That’s why regional initiatives are important. Every watershed is different and faces different issues.

Jay:

How will AWS account for differences like annual precipitation within a region? For instance, issues within the Mississippi River watershed are much different than those within the Colorado River watershed.

Lisa:

One option under consideration is to take a step-wise approach – one with minimum requirements for certification, but that allows water users to go above and beyond to achieve higher levels of certification, similar to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED. We hope to address many of these issues during our pilot testing and to learn about the issues that come up in drier regions.

Jay:

What about within different sectors, like agriculture, manufacturing and mining? Will the standard vary from one sector to another?

Lisa:

Our intent is for the standard to be as broadly applicable as possible. However, because different sectors use different quantities of water in different ways, implementation guidance may be developed that varies from one sector to another. We will look for input from various sectors to address these issues.

Jay:

What key factors will shape the standard?

Lisa:

Four areas will like be examined. How the water user impacts water quality. How they impact water quantity. How they affect biodiversity. And, lastly, how they affect governance of water use. For example, are they following water laws? Are they transparent in what they’re doing to improve the water resource?

Jay:

How can folks get involved?

Lisa:

There are several opportunities. First, stay informed and subscribe to our e-newsletter. When the draft standard is released, we’re very interested in comments and suggestions for improvement. We are also looking for companies and utilities to serve as test pilots.

Jay:

How can people get in touch with you?

Lisa:

By phone at (414) 248-8095 or by e-mail at ldownes@tnc.org.


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