2022 was a momentous story for climate and energy. Water may not have made the splashiest headlines, but it maintained a steady current, even offering a few surprises. Here are some of the top water stories from TriplePundit from 2022, plus what we might see on the water front in 2023.
Three themes emerged around water in TriplePundit’s reporting: water quality and quantity, water tech solutions, and what companies are doing to tackle water stress. Unsurprisingly, all three themes overlap with each other. With water stress posing significant risks to companies, more corporations are thinking about water as a stewardship issue rather than just an operations issue, especially as droughts continue to persist in the American West and other water hotspots around the globe. Tech companies are taking notice, developing solutions to address previously seemingly intractable water problems. And unfortunately, Jackson, Mississippi’s water crisis made headlines again.
While international water events like World Water Day and World Water Week continued to raise awareness of persistent issues, water also became more of a focal point in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in 2022. Further, the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP27) climate negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, gave water a more central role.
An early 2022 TriplePundit article called for watching Waters of the United States (WOTUS), the main federal law that defines a waterway under federal jurisdiction. At the very end of 2022, the Joe Biden administration finalized a rule restoring protections under the WOTUS law. While an incredibly wonky and concurrently hotly contested issue, the new rule restores protections that were in place before 2015 for traditional navigable waters, including territorial seas, interstate waters and the upstream water resources that affect them. Already causing heartburn among stakeholders, expect this rule to be hotly contested throughout 2023.
Mega-drought will continue to be a pressure point in many place. In the Western U.S., the Colorado River expected to reach critical levels as some reservoirs reach “dead pool” status, I.e., water can no longer flow downstream to the dams. The U.S. Department of the Interior has announced significant cuts to certain water supplies in 2023 and called for basin-wide conservation in both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two largest water reservoirs in a system that supplies water for over 40 million people.
The themes of 2023’s World Water Day (WWD) and World Water Week (WWW) both center on change. World Water Day in March 2023 will focus on Accelerating Change, while WWW’s theme for August is Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World. 2022 brought devastating floods in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Australia coupled with crippling record-breaking droughts in the Horn of Africa and Europe. The need for critical and accelerated water solutions is clearer than ever.
This year’s COP, which will take place in Dubai in late November, will focus on the first Global Stocktake, the process for evaluating progress countries have made or are making toward meeting their long-term goals, often referred to as the goals under the Paris Agreement (so named because they were negotiated at COP21 in Paris). Water flows through every impacted sector in addition to being heavily and directly impacted by climate change. Water is often the buried lede in climate negotiations, but given the headlines it continues to make, expect it be pervasive in the solutions and challenges within the Global Stocktake.
As the most visceral and visual symbol of our daily lives, water stories will continue to rise to the top. But 2023 could be the year to see innovative water solutions really start to flow.
Image credit: Claudia Chiavazza/Unsplash
Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.