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Tool Sections: Overview Module 1 Module 2 Module 3 Module 4 Module 5
Module 1 Water Use, Impact, and Source Assessment

Module Purpose

Understanding how a product, facility, or company is connected to water—through direct and indirect water use and through impacts to water from business activities and products—is the critical first step in determining how an organization should respond to water risks and opportunities in a sustainable manner. This module helps organizations answer the following questions:

  • In what key areas does the business directly and indirectly rely on and impact water throughout the value chain?
  • What is the status or vulnerability of water sources used or impacted by the business?

Water uses and impacts identified in this Module will be used to complete the risk assessment and prioritization in Module 2. Together, Modules 1 and 2 make it possible for each company to complete a current state assessment. Only after building an understanding of your current water uses, impacts and risks, can you begin to develop appropriate strategies to achieve your business goals.

Module Approach

For each stage in the value chain, the user should examine how water “flows” through the business activities in that area. Many companies using environmental management systems may have already identified water uses in the context of identifying environmental “aspects.” The tool is designed to build on those assessments and focus on identifying additional direct and indirect water uses at other stages in each company’s value chain.

Step 1




Identify and Characterize Water Uses

  • In what ways does the organization directly and indirectly use water at each stage in the value chain?

Identify Water Uses

By asking this question at each stage in a company’s value chain, tool users are encouraged to think broadly about water use. Tool users should begin developing an understanding of key water uses at the company, from raw material or production stages, through customer use and final disposition. There are several areas of water use and reliance shared by many companies, such as facility landscaping, process heating/cooling, cleaning of parts during production, and transportation of materials. There are also areas of water use that are common to specific industry sectors. In addition, companies are often connected to water in very indirect, yet critical ways. These connections may be associated with the way your suppliers, employees, and customers use water. Each stage of the value chain also has unique water uses that are common to many companies. Exploring these water uses from a variety of approaches will help the user complete a comprehensive picture of a company’s key connections to water.

Characterize Water Uses

Tool users need to collect sufficient information about key water uses to identify associated opportunities and risks (see Modules 2 and 3). Characterization of each water use should include information about the quantity of water used, the quality of water used, the purpose of the water use, the source of water used, and seasonal or other fluctuations in water use. A “water balance” is a helpful means of documenting water uses within a facility or process, as highlighted in the Texas Instruments case study.

Step 2




Identify and Characterize Water Impacts

  • In what ways does the organization impact surfacewater and/or groundwater through activities at each stage of the value chain?

It may be useful to think of water impacts in two main arenas. First, water impacts may be associated with water discharges. Examples of water discharges include water released from a facility wastewater treatment plant, stormwater run-off from company property, and cooling water returned to a nearby waterway. In many cases, water uses identified in Step 1 will have associated water discharges if the water is not completely consumed by the use. Second, water impacts can result from business activities that do not directly relate to water use, but involve other materials potentially impacting the quality of water sources. For example, air deposition can affect the quality of surfacewaters. Leaching of materials and chemicals can impact the quality of groundwater aquifers. Spills or leaking tanks can impact surface and groundwater quality.

Identify Water Impacts

In certain stages of the value chain, such as “process/production,” direct water impacts will often be easy to identify because they involve activities that are likely to be regulated by government agencies. At each end of the value chain, however, direct and indirect impacts may be less obvious. Using several different approaches will help to identify hidden water impacts. For water discharges, be sure to consider all the ways that water quality can be changed by an activity. In looking for possible impacts arising from contact with raw materials, production intermediates or finished product, consider all of the materials used in your company’s supply chain as potential sources. Then, consider the value chain. Use it as a lens to focus a systematic search for water-related impacts. For example, customers may require water to use, clean, or maintain a company’s products or services. Key water impacts should be identified in this step. Tool users should consider potential impacts, and not just those that may occur routinely.

Characterize Water Impacts

Tool users need to collect sufficient information about key water uses to identify associated opportunities and risks (see Modules 2 and 3). The following elements should be considered in characterizing each water impact: the type of impact, the amount of water affected, the quality of the water discharged or impacted, the location of impact, the magnitude of impact, potential affects on ecosystems, and potential affects on public health, society, and culture.

Step 3




Step 3: Identify and Assess Water Sources

  • What are the primary water sources connected to the company’s water uses and impacts?
  • To what degree is the water source(s) under stress?
  • To what degree does the business affect this source through its water use or impacts?

For each water use and impact identified in Steps 1 and 2, it is important to identify the primary source(s) of water relied upon and/or impacted. Companies should explore the vulnerabilities associated with sources that the company directly and indirectly relies upon and/or impacts. Water use, impact, and source information is then brought together in Module 2 to identify and prioritize potential business risks. Tool users should consider information such as the general description of the source, the size of source, the source’s rate of replenishment, the source’s quality, other industrial, agricultural, domestic, commercial, and ecosystem demands on the source, as well as climatic conditions or weather patterns, such as drought.

In many cases, it will be sufficient for the tool user to perform a brief assessment of primary water sources on which the facility or company relies or impacts. If there are signs of vulnerability associated with a water source, a more in-depth assessment might be warranted. A case study in Module 5 presents an approach that Anheuser-Busch Inc. has found to be helpful in assessing the status of water sources on which its facilities depend.


Module Outputs

Identified water uses and impacts at each stage of a company’s value chain and source status information from Module 1 will drive the assessment and prioritization of potential business risks in Module 2.

Module 2