Chile Tackles Water Footprint Strategy, Sets New Standards for Measurements

chilean river photo

Entrance to Zeta Rapid on Chile's Futaleufu River. Photo via nwrafting via Flickr Creative Commons

Measuring our water footprint is the first step toward reaching efficiency. More businesses and communities are getting serious about these measurements, putting them on par with carbon and energy accounting. But Chile is getting extra detailed about its footprint, breaking it down into green blue and grey, to ensure a complete understanding of how water is sourced and cycled through the system. Green water is the levels of precipitation, blue water is levels of surface and underground water, and the more familiar grey is of course the water that is cycled through communities and wastewater facilities. By breaking down a total water footprint into these more specific components, Chile is making its measurements much more effective for designing and implementing conservation strategies. IPS reports that Chile is getting serious about measuring its supplies and uses of water to ensure that the country is using what it has sustainably. To be as accurate as possible, experts are ramping up more specialized methods that take into account localized sources and uses, especially when it comes to industry use.

The Chile Foundation is adding to the standards set forward by the Water Footprint Network, urging companies to think beyond outdated regulations around water use and consider issues such as watershed health when accounting for their water consumption. They're doing ground-breaking work in measuring impacts of industry on supplies and ecosystems. IPS reports:

[T]he institution is calculating the situation of the entire Huasco watershed. To create a complete map, it is preparing to measure -- for the first time in the world -- the full impact of mining activity on water resources.

There are already companies interested in what the Foundation is doing. The area is home to the highly controversial Pascua Lama gold and silver deposits, to be mined by the Canadian company Barrick Gold.

The fact is that the water footprints cannot be compared if the companies producing a specific product are located in geographically different places, with different precipitation patterns and different soil compositions.

By measuring watershed health, mapping the types and levels of water sources across different microclimates and ecosystems within the country, and how industries are using their local water sources as well as how they're processing the water used, Chile will create a highly detailed and accurate water footprint that can help create real solutions for efficiency and healthy management. Perhaps most importantly, it will help pinpoint which industries are doing the most harm and how they can improve their practices.

"Providing information about the water footprint could be a factor of economic competition" for Latin America, "and Chile could be a pioneer in establishing methodologies," because of the development of its private water market, said Joseluis Samaniego, director of sustainable development and human settlements at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Over the past couple years, we've seen a significant rise in how seriously companies within the US are taking their water footprints. As supplies tighten, especially in the west and in California, an agricultural hub for the entire country, tracking exactly how water is used will be a matter of survival for businesses and communities. Following the progress Chile makes on mapping and modeling their various types of water footprints could be a boon for managing water here in the states.

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