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Water Offsets: Real, Beneficial, and Here

| Friday January 21st, 2011 | 0 Comments

Something interesting is bubbling up in the Pacific Northwest. And it’s not beer. But it has a connection to it.

Water offsets, or as their creator BEF calls them, Water Restoration Certificates do the seemingly impossible: Bring water back to dead or seasonally running waterways. Four billion gallons as of 2010.

But it’s not some magic that brings water back.It’s pragmatically providing incentives to those that own the water, to give it back. Or rather, not use it. In a brilliant TEDx presentation, BEF’s Rob Harmon explains that it’s typically a problem of over subscription to the water source that causes it to be drained until gone.

Water rights were established to better manage it, where various people, businesses, farmers have an allotted amount of water available to them. But there’s a critical flaw: If you don’t use your allotted water, you lose your rights. Thus, you have no incentive to conserve, even if you want to.

Water Restoration Certificates bridge the gap, by paying those with senior rights to the water to allow it to remain in the body of water, rather then using it. Leave water in, it accumulates. A dry river bed brought back to life.

Eight months ago the WRC program launched, and thus far it has gotten a very positive reception. And why not? The benefit is easy to understand, tangible, and clearly document and certify. The one hurdle they’ve encountered so far is when people want their WRCs to apply to bodies of water in proximity to them. Not every one of them needs help, and adding water wouldn’t make a useful difference.

Who is buying water offsets? Companies that use a lot of water, such as breweries are early adopters. As Harmon demonstrated in his video, one pint of beer takes 100 pints of water to make. While it can certainly take steps to reduce the amount of water used in the factory, beer itself is composed mostly of it. The grains that go into it take a certain essential amount. WRCs provide a way for breweries to restore water, when it cannot reduce further.

Hotels are another clear customer for WRCs, for obvious reasons. And as a bonus, those that take the time to educate their guests on what they’re doing, will likely generate more restoration via guests then purchasing WRCs as well.

As Harmon put it, “These transactions create allies not enemies, connect people rather than dividing them, and they provide needed support to rural communities.”

Is it time for you to look into doing this in your corner of the world?

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.


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