EHS Fundamentals

What is water resource management

When it comes to compliant water resource management, a company’s level of understanding could mean the difference between sink or swim.

Taylor Murphy

by Taylor Murphy

Pure and … simple? Simply put, the goal of water resource management is to clean up waters, ensure unpolluted waters are kept that way, and protect workers’ health. While the concept might be clear, compliance in this area can involve many moving parts. Below we break down the key factors of water resources management, including what it involves and what your company needs to keep in mind.

The ebb and flow of water resources management

Water resource management requires planning, developing, and controlling how your company interacts with water. This includes your business’s water intake, use, and disposal. While one important goal is optimizing the use of water, this process looks at more than just how much water your company consumes. Effective water resource management should minimize the environmental impact from corporate water utilization as well as provide clean and safe drinking water to employees.

Managing water’s lifecycle in your facilities

For comprehensive water resource management, your company must ensure compliance at all 3 stages of its interaction with water:

Water abstraction: This stage of the lifecycle refers to a business’s withdrawal of freshwater from ground or surface water sources. Regulations at this part of the process impose restrictions on from where a company can retrieve its water, how it does so, and how much it can take. Globally there are various requirements associated with water abstraction for manufacturing and building management purposes (e.g., in cooling towers and toilets).

Water usage: A business’s “water use” covers a wide spectrum of activities. This stage refers to all usage in manufacturing, building management, and maintaining human health (e.g., drinking, showering). Typically, each of your facilities will need to obtain a separate permit for each of these uses. Generally, permits specify requirements for monitoring the amount used and the levels of contaminants as well as for record keeping and reporting.

Water disposal: At the end of the lifecycle, the disposal stage refers to all ways a company discharges water from its facilities. This includes wastewater leaving sites after being used anywhere in a facility, including from operational processes, kitchen or breakrooms, and bathrooms. Like with the other two stages, facilities will likely need a permit for these discharges. Additionally, they often must monitor and record certain aspects of the discharge, such as pollutants in the water, where the water is discharged to, and how much water is discharged.

Of these 3 stages, (in most cases) the federal government plays a bigger role in regulating water quality from disposal, while states regulate water abstraction and use. Of course, states, like in the US and EU Member States, can set stricter water quality standards than are set at the US-federal or EU level.

Understanding permits and the path to successful water resource management

Water is typically regulated through permits. And those permits can be very precise. Knowing the specific requirements contained in each is crucial to regulatory compliance – and even improving operations.

To stay in the know (and keep your company out of hot water) EHS professionals must keep track of:

  1. any permits required for the abstract, use, and/or disposal of water by a facility
  2. if they are single-use permits or part of an integrated operating permit
  3. the specific requirements within those permits
  4. who issues the permit, license, or registration
  5. if an authority needs to be notified about water interaction when permits are not required
  6. what kinds of substances your facility may or may not discharge in its wastewater

While they can be cumbersome, these elements of water resource management serve as more than only a guide to compliance. Working to meet these requirements can also support efforts to operate more efficiently. For example, as facilities adapt to comply with limitations on how much water they can use, it can be an opportunity to identify ways to reduce the company’s use of water overall.

Keeping your head above water resource management

Water resource management is essential not only for companies to be more efficient in their processes, but also to be more effective in their responsibility to protect our world. However, the task is often easier said than done. With various requirements to meet for multiple stages of water interaction (all changing from site to site), managing compliance in this area can be complicated. The first step is for EHS professionals to fully understand all regulations for water abstraction, use, and disposal in their operating jurisdictions. From there, business leaders should look at how to transform these objectives into opportunities for improving operations – and their impact on the environment.

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