It is no secret that large parts of the U.S. have been experiencing more frequent droughts and prolonged water shortages. Though the period of 2022-2023 brought record rainfall to the Western United States, it is still drying out overall. Almost half of the freshwater basins in Colorado are expected to fall short of monthly water demand by 2071.
These water shortages are a problem for everyone, residents and businesses alike. The water crisis in parts of the U.S. disrupts operations across all kinds of industries and knowing how to save water is becoming more and more vital as time goes on.
Table of contents
2.1. Higher running costs
2.4. Worse credit ratings
3.1. Behavioral change
Why is there a water crisis in the U.S.?
Water scarcity in the United States has been a progressing problem for decades now. To begin with, only 2.5% of the water on Earth is freshwater, and most of it is underground. While the number of water sources in existence has stayed about the same, the population has not. Over the past 70 years, the number of people in the U.S. has increased by almost 190 million.
This boom in population means that many more resources are now required to sustain communities – in particular, to produce enough food for them. Over 70% of Earth’s freshwater is used to irrigate and provide water to the plants and animals humans eat – so more humans means much greater water stress. 96% of water use in America comes from growing food, generating energy, and making clothes.
Striking population growth in the face of barely any change in water supply is one source of the current water crisis. Another is climate change. Droughts and heat waves have become much more frequent in recent years, as well as much more severe. Modern droughts are longer and hotter
Warmer air also means more evaporation, so precipitation does not always equal more water. In the United States, there is currently more water transported between ground surfaces and the lower atmosphere than in all the rivers and streams combined. On the other side of this spectrum, flooding can result in too much unsafe water sleeping into freshwater sources, carrying with it animal waste, human waste, fertilizer, and other contaminants. And floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S.
How do water shortages affect businesses?
Businesses of all kinds depend on water such that conservation of water is essential now more than ever. It’s not a very visible resource, but water and water management are central to countless industry operations. Businesses from the auto industry to electronics manufacturing to commercial transportation and shipping are hit hard when there’s a water shortage.
Higher running costs
In a water crisis, the cost of maintaining operations becomes higher. Increases are seen in everything from the cost of operating machinery to rising utility bills. In addition to increased daily costs, a heavy drought can lead to outside restrictions on water use. In 2020, the Australian government required businesses to have a permit in order to use drinking water in their buildings, or face hefty fines.
Supply chain disruptions
Water scarcity can impede your supply chain management. Water use in U.S. companies comes overwhelmingly from their supply chains, where a delay in one area can halt or end progress in subsequent areas.
For example, electronics manufacturers like Apple use water to remove impurities in microchips. When there is water scarcity, this takes longer or does not happen, meaning that the overall production process also takes longer or does not happen. Manufacturers and retailers are both impacted by this.
Less water means drier rivers – in some cases, rivers which would ordinarily be used for transporting cargo. Vessels sailing in these rivers carry all sorts of things, from finished products to perishable goods to raw materials. A drought in 2012 closed the Mississippi River at least three times, which led to losses of $300 million per day of closure.
Worse credit ratings
Though a roundabout effect of water shortages, a lower credit rating for businesses can downgrade them in the eyes of investors, meaning less access to funding in the future. Water scarcity introduces the risk of shortages, particularly in industries like agriculture, where droughts can ruin crops. These shortages hurt a business’s bottom line, driving away potential investors.
Tips for conservation of water in your business
The varied and to an extent inevitable risks of a water shortage mean that good water management is essential to your business. There are several strategies for conservation of water that can help you mitigate scarcity.
Employees are a significant source of water usage in businesses, especially outside of manufacturing. A good start in your efforts to save water is to get employees to be more careful with their water usage. Some ideas to accomplish this are:
- Establish a water use target across your organization
- Appoint a specific person in charge of monitoring conservation of water
- Emphasize education and information that will help employees use less water
- Introduce calculators or a digital tracker to measure water use
Use water-efficient technology
Technology is a great asset to water saving efforts. One simple way to use technology this way is to identify and fix leaks regularly. Another easy thing you can do is go paperless – in addition to making your life easier, an individual sheet of paper takes 2 liters of water to produce.
Consider investing in programs or apps that monitor water use in your utilities, and use a water footprint calculator to measure how much water is used across your supply chain.
Minimize the water used in tasks
Another type of technology that makes conservation of water easier is technology that measures how much water you actually need. For example, precision agriculture technology like AI can determine exactly how much water your plants need to grow. The fashion industry also uses lots of water, so sustainable fashion technologies and initiatives are important ways of negating water scarcity.
There are even innovative ways to source the water you do use, like technologies that harvest water from the air – particularly useful as warmer temperatures mean that’s where a large amount of water ends up.
Saving water is easier when you have defined processes in place, and it’s easy to codify as well as enforce processes with a digital checklist app like Lumiform. The paperless solution helps you cut down on water use by helping you inspect leaks, implement new technologies, and analyze your water conservation measures.