Can start-up companies control and manage their water use?

This is part of the article. FirstA series about companies using new science and technology to solve challenges in their industries.

Drought, drought, everywhere, not a drop to drink, to misquote the ancient mariner. It is becoming increasingly clear that the world is running out of clean water.

However, while there are many companies that claim carbon is the primary culprit for climate change, few focus on water, and specifically how corporations manage and regulate its use.

“Water is at the center of the climate crisis,” said José Ignacio Galindo, who helped found WaterPlan, a company that helps corporations understand and manage water security. “Climate change is the problem, and water is the messenger.”

The Water Planning software platform integrates public watershed data and customer water usage data to help companies in water-intensive industries ensure their current and future operations are unaffected by drought. And perhaps most importantly, it helps companies monitor and replenish the watersheds and reservoirs we all depend on. (Waterplan charges an annual software license fee per site, but declined to provide details on the fee range.)

Mr. Galindo and one of his co-founders, Nicolas Wertimer, met at the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers program at the Argentina Center, which brings together young people from diverse backgrounds to work on social and environmental projects. Mr. Wertheimer was already working in water management, and Mr. Galindo was a software engineer. You see that there are many innovations in carbon accounting, but not the same work as water.

In December 2020, they hired developers to work on a software platform that integrates regional water data for industry use. They joined the prestigious Y Combinator startup accelerator in the summer of 2021, the first water-focused climate startups from the program.

Their timing could not have been better. Asia and Africa, no strangers to drought, have experienced the worst water shortages in recent decades. A large swath of the United States from California to Texas is facing its worst drought in 1,200 years. In Europe, some rivers were so low that the so-called famine pebbles – river rocks that only appear during severe droughts – began to appear above the water line. The oldest one in the Elbe River in the Czech Republic is believed to have been written in 1616.

A stint at Y Combinator attracted investors — including Richard Branson’s family and Leonardo DiCaprio — that allowed Mr. Galindo and his co-founders to hire Nick Silverman, a hydrologist at the University of Montana, as their chief science officer. WaterPlan currently has over 30 clients including Coca-Cola, Amazon and the world’s largest brewer. WaterPlan currently works in more than 100 watersheds worldwide, and the number of watersheds it monitors is growing.

“The challenge for individuals, communities and companies is to make long-term, sustainable decisions about natural resources that are so critical to life but so complex in movement and form,” said Dr Silverman.

Eventually, the information provided by the WaterPlan platform will be needed by governments as regulators around the world begin to implement transparency protocols related to climate and nature. Similar protocols, established by a task force on climate-related financial disclosures, are already mandatory in Britain, the European Union, Switzerland, Brazil, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore. And the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed climate-risk disclosure rules that could take effect by the end of the year.

Companies that disclose those risks will benefit from a lower cost of capital, said Kate Lamb, director of water safety at CDP, which distributes more than 6,000 annual water use surveys. companies around the world.

Climate change is not the only cause of water risk. Overuse, pollution and misallocation of limited resources also contribute. “Unlike fossil fuels, we have alternatives, there is no other alternative than clean water,” said Ms. Lam. “And we’re running.”

In the year In 2020, Chile ordered Barrick, a Canadian mining company, to close Chile’s $8.5 billion Pasqua Lama gold and copper mine over concerns that it would excessively contaminate local water supplies.

Water Plan hopes the platform will eventually provide all the water information necessary to meet the various existing and upcoming regulations.

Cameron H. McClain, founder and managing partner of Giant Ventures, one of WaterPlan’s main investors, believes water safety will be an increasingly important topic in the coming decades.

After the floods and fires are over, people forget about the danger, but the loss of water supply is something that no one ignores, he said. “It really focuses people’s minds on climate change,” Mr McClain said.

Waterplan software combines companies’ operational data with local watershed data, satellite imagery and hydrologic modeling to provide a real-time financial assessment of a facility’s risk of disruption or shutdown due to water. Users access this information by subscribing to a web-based dashboard that provides regularly updated insights, threats, targets and opportunities.

Based on the data, the dashboard suggests customized actions such as installing common water-saving technologies and nature-based solutions such as wetlands. Water Plan, though its software, tracks the results of mediation activities.

WaterPlan “can determine how much water is available in an area and predict what’s going to happen to it and monitor it in relatively real time,” said David Singer, a senior executive at Coca-Cola, the largest U.S. bottling company, and an informal consultant to WaterPlan. While he questions the frequency of water data updates, he doesn’t question the value of the data or that outages are becoming more frequent. “Drought and heavy rains affect regional watersheds more than most people think,” said Mr. Singer.

Among WaterPlan’s first customers was McCain, one of the world’s largest potato producers and a supplier of frozen French fries to McDonald’s. McCain is committed to reducing its water consumption by 15 percent over the next three years, said Sabine Lima, the company’s sustainability manager for Latin America. McCain is using Waterplan’s scenario modeling to understand various water risks around its farms and facilities in Argentina.

Another customer is Amazon Web Services. Will Hews, head of global water sustainability, said of Waterplan: “They have tools that help us with that water risk assessment. What are the main issues in this basin? Who should we join? How should we think about water challenges? “It fits right in with what we’re doing,” he added, referring to a watershed restoration project in Brazil.

For customers looking to recharge their aquifers, WaterPlan analyzes the vegetation or lack thereof, covers an area, and uses rainfall and temperature data to estimate how much water is entering the groundwater during the month.

“We can’t know exactly how much water is in the water, but we can measure variations over time,” said Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist and former senior water scientist at NASA.

Depletion of groundwater can reduce the water table, but it can also reduce water quality. WaterPlan says it is able to predict when a customer’s facility will run out of quality water under extreme conditions.

Dr. Famiglietti, who lives in Canada, said: “There is no escape on the planet from global change,” adding that part of the planet is warming two to three times more than the rest of the planet, according to a 2019 report by the Canadian government. .

Still, many water-stressed municipalities lure water-intensive industries with the promise of more water. Dr. Famiglietti said he was embarrassed to hear such noises, saying that politicians focused on short election cycles did not understand that they were necessarily giving away the future.

“If you tell everyone you have hundred years of water and everyone comes and digs a well, all of a sudden you only get 50 years of water,” he said.

Companies risk the perception that they are leaving nearby communities without adequate clean water. A water plan helps customers understand how much water they have, how much they need, and how those variables change over time. Companies can invest in restoration activities that can have a significant impact on replenishing aquifers, such as reforestation and maintaining wetlands.

More and more companies are turning to so-called nature-based solutions to return water to the environment where it originates. Returning any water collected from rivers, reservoirs or wells to its source can use collected rainwater, air conditioning condensate and collected wastewater.

As drought depletes surface water and the water table recedes, companies dig deeper to find water. But deep wells go back to geologic history, drawing water that sat there thousands, if not millions, of years ago. Aquifers near the surface can be filled by rain, but deep water takes thousands of years to fill with fossil water.

“We have to adapt quickly,” Mr. Galindo warned. Clean water challenges are growing faster than most people realize.

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