Water Stewardship

Water is a critically important resource. It is fundamental to both industrial and agricultural activity. However, water is a limited resource and water shortages have now become a global reality. Despite Ireland being a water-rich nation, managing this national resource in the years ahead will pose some major challenges. It will have an impact from an economic and an environmental standpoint.

A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) global risk survey found that the risk of an emerging “global water crisis” was regarded as the third highest ranked risk. In the last 100 years, global water demand has increased by 600%, which is more than double the rate of population growth.

It is predicted that, by 2030, global demand will grow by another 50% (World Bank) and outstrip supply (UN). The increase will mainly come from manufacturing, electricity and domestic use. This supply deficit poses a real threat to the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is the dedicated goal on water and sanitation (SDG 6) that sets out to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” (UN).

There are several high-level issues affecting water as a resource globally. They are: water scarcity, flooding and pollution. Activities and phenomena that affect water quantity and quality are over-abstraction, climate change, lack of efficiency, eutrophication, marine intrusion and, hydromorphology. Water challenges are local in nature but global in relevance and are shared between all water users.

Water Stress Map

Source: World Resources Institute via The Economist Intelligence Unit
Areas most affected by water scarcity are displayed in dark red. The degree of red represents the extent of scarcity for that region.
In Ireland, a wide range of ecological, social and competitiveness impacts may occur due to poor supply headroom, flooding and increased pollution risks. In the near future if the demand-side of the equation is not addressed  water supply and availability problems are inevitable (Enterprise Ireland).
Water stewardship is a collaborative and multi-stakeholder approach that aims to achieve social, environmental and economic benefits. Water stewardship is one way an organisation can manage the complexities of balancing their own water use with the needs of communities and nature. The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) defines Water Stewardship as: “The use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder inclusive process that involves site and catchment based actions.”

Certified Water Stewardship

A Certified Water Steward can help organisations lower their water use and operating costs while protecting the environment. The theory promotes shifting away from a focus on water supply to water demand management. A certified programme – developed by Central Solutions, accredited by European Water Stewardship (EWS) and supported by Irish Water & the Lean & Green Skillnet – covers key concepts, including:

  • Global, European and Local context of industrial water use.
  • Shared Risks and Challenges.
  • Four Principles of Water Stewardship.
  • An Overview of Water Standards.
  • Making a Business Case for Water Stewardship.

Local industries are recognised as having a unique and powerful role to play in responding to the water stewardship priority. They can act as a catalyst for the greater adoption of water stewardship practices in their river basin catchment areas.

The four key principles of Water Stewardship are: Quantity, Quality, Environment and Water Governance. Water stewardship tools and methods have emerged as a practical response to help address water risks and challenges through best practices adopted at river basin and industrial site levels. These tools and methods are outlined below.

Establishing a Business Case for Water

One of the key activities during an organisation’s water stewardship journey is to establish their business case and priority goals for implementing water stewardship initiatives. These will differ from site to site and sector to sector.  The process of establishing a business case for water stewardship will typically involve:

  • Overcoming initial challenges.
  • Linking water stewardship to key business goals.
  • Considering business drivers –physical (operational), reputational, financial or regulatory.
  • Adopting a holistic approach to water.

Site Level Water Map

The process of water mapping is an iterative one which may be completed by an individual or group. The following are some of the recommended steps:

  • Gather information from available drawings and documentation.
  • List out the water equipment and services.
  • Categorise the water equipment and services into Supply and Distribution, Pre-treatment, End-Users, Post-Treatment, and Sink.
  • Create a draft site level Water Map including metering locations.
  • Check and validate the Water Map against drawings, documents and/or a site walk-down.
  • Iterate until satisfied the map is an accurate reflection of the water flow through the plant and includes all major water processes/stages and flows.

Once a site level water map has been created and validated, it can be used as a key tool for several water stewardship activities. These activities include a digital water map, a water map poster, a Sankey diagram, a water balance map, monitoring & cost analysis and, continuous improvement.

Baselining and Monitoring

Establishing the baseline of water use is the process of identifying the current and trending usage of water and its associated costs. Some key activities to establish a baseline water use for a site include:

  • Water bill analysis.
  • True cost of water analysis (purchasing water, pre-treatment, heating, cooling, regulatory compliance).
  • Metering water use (site level & sub metering).
  • Monitoring water use.
  • Establishing site water targets and KPIs (l/unit of product etc).
  • Baselining your patterns of water use (daily consumption, background use, unaccounted for water).

When a baseline has been established, it serves as a benchmark against which water use and water conservation actions and projects can be measured.

Building a Possibility Chart for Water Conservation

Water conservation is a key element of Water Stewardship standards. There are a wide variety of water conservation opportunities that can be implemented on a site:

  • Water Leaks.
  • Domestic Services (fixtures and equipment in kitchens, bathrooms and laundries).
  • Cleaning and Sanitation.
  • Process Use.
  • Heating and Cooling.
  • Outdoor Use (outdoor cleaning, landscaping, and vehicle cleaning).
  • Organisational Practices (management buy-in, training, reporting, SOPs, preventative management).
  • Water Supply Chain (suppliers, water footprinting).


For reference – 1m3 = 1,000 litres, that’s more than 4 typical wheelie bins full of water.


The purpose of building a possibility chart is to begin to explore which categories have strong possibilities for water conservation on a site. This chart can be used as a starting point to identify specific water conservation actions for an organisation’s Water Stewardship Charter.

Alternative Water Sources

Whilst alternative water sources are not necessarily water conservation opportunities, they may offer a financial ROI. They can be considered as part of Water Stewardship Charter development. The benefits associated with alternative water sources can include:

  • Cost savings achieved by reducing the demand on the mains water supply.
  • Security of a water supply if the mains supply is interrupted.
  • Reduced Environmental Impact by reusing water or sourcing it locally.

Examples of alternative water sources are rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling and water abstraction. While alternative water sources can bring these benefits to your business, it is important that they are managed appropriately.

Water Stewardship Charter

The Water Stewardship Charter is a document of the current priorities, use, opportunities and approved actions on water stewardship for an organisation. It is a living document that should be updated annually to reflect the current water stewardship and water conservation activities for that specific point in time.

Water Stewardship Charters may differ in formats, but a good project charter should include the following details:

  • Business Drivers.
  • Bill Analysis.
  • True Cost of Water
  • Metering
  • Monitoring
  • Site Water Use KPIs & Targets
  • Site Level Water Map
  • Water Stewardship Action Plan

The development of the Water Stewardship Charter is typically a collaborative effort. A key part of the Water Stewardship journey for an organisation is to share, communicate, and disclose their efforts, progress, and challenges to all the relevant stakeholders.

Water Stewardship as a service – WEW Engineering Ltd.

Failure to address water risks has proven to affect a company’s bottom line and investors are increasingly interested to see evidence that companies are prepared to face those risks to protect their market share. On the opposite end of the value set, both consumer and employee sentiment continues to gravitate towards companies that operate in a sustainable way.

WEW has a Certified Water Steward on staff and is keen to offer the above services to our clients to help them on their journey towards responsible water stewardship.

Water-Intensive Industries

  • Agriculture
  • Apparel
  • Beverages
  • Biotechnology/pharmaceuticals
  • Electric power
  • Forest products
  • High-tech (including semiconductor manufacturing)
  • Metals/mining


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