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Water Wednesday: Many businesses blind to water risks

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Water Wednesday: Corporate water risks; Reefs in danger; Revitalizing urban waterways

Contributor's Note: This is the first installment in what will be an ongoing column in water sustainability, consumption and management issues. The rationale is simple: water is a more urgent priority for corporate social responsibility programs and becoming more so every day.

Researchers suggests big companies should do more about water risks
New data from environmental issues research company EIRIS finds that approximately 54 percent of the world's largest companies are at risk from water issues -- shortages, quality and so on -- but less than 10 percent of them have set goals to do something about it.

The report, called "A drought in your portfolio: are global companies responding to water scarcity?", suggests that water could be an even more critical issue for businesses than other issues (such as fuel supplies). If companies don't do anything about the amount of water they use, demand will outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030, EIRIS suggests.

There are obviously some sectors more at risk than others. They include: agriculture, food and beverages, power generation companies, and semiconductor manufacturers. By 2025, two-thirds of the world's countries will be affected, the report predicts, including the United States, Australia, China and India.

Among the conclusions:

"The price of water, which has been previously been undervalued and kept artificially low through subsidies, will rise globally. Water prices in Southern California rose by 14 percent in 2009 alone. An increase in water prices globally will affect profit margins for those sectors directly or indirectly reliant on water. As a result, companies will be face with increasing regulatory pressures related to water consumption and quality."

Report: Majority of world's reefs at risk
As a scuba diver, this one really freaks me out. A preliminary report released this month by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPOS) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature suggests that the degeneration of ocean life, including reefs, is happening much faster than previously thought. Indeed, the panel believes that the rate at which carbon is being absorbed by the ocean is faster now than when the last "globally significant extinction of marine species" occurred 55 million years ago. The major factors: overfishing, nutrient run-off from farming and other "human-induced impacts."

The new findings echo those from the World Resource Institute in its February 2011 report, "Reefs at Risk Revisited." That report suggests that unless the effects of global warming -- coral bleaching and acidification -- are reversed, more than 90 percent of the ocean's reefs will be in danger by 2030 and all of them will be threatened by 2050.

Feds seek to transform urban waterfronts
A new collaboration between 11 federal agencies, the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, seeks to restore and renew urban waterways and waterfronts across the United States. The focus is on under-served communities, and the aim is to boost economic development, tourism, property values and access to public spaces in the targeted regions.

Notes White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes:

"At a time when every dollar the federal government invests in jump starting the economy is critical, we are finding ways to create unprecedented collaboration among the federal agencies, invest Americans' tax dollars more wisely and efficiently, and act as better partners with local communities."

There are seven communities that are part of the program's initial focus: the Patapsco Watershed in Maryland; the Anacostia Watershed in Washington, D.C./Maryland; the Bronx and Harlem River Watersheds in New York; the South Platte River in Denver; the Los Angeles River Watershed; the Lake Pontchartrain Area in New Orleans; and the Northwest Indiana Area. The communities were picked because there were already local efforts going on that can be accelerated.

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure