Verdigre Creek
Around 20 of the world’s 100 largest river basins are being affected by water stress caused by high water usage and droughts. File photo by Grace Bornschlegl

About 20 of the world’s 100 largest river basins by area are currently affected by high to extreme water stress caused by high water usage and droughts, which means water resources are becoming insufficient based on the needs of the surrounding area.

More river basins are expected to also become highly water-stressed by 2050, according to Monica McBride, director of agricultural and environmental metrics for the World Wildlife Fund. This is caused by rising consumption, climate change and increases in pollution.

On Oct. 15, the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln hosted a webinar in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund addressing how companies are creating science-based goals to preserve freshwater as a resource. Representatives from the Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé and Cargill discussed their companies’ freshwater science-based target goals. 

The three companies were chosen because of their leadership in setting ambitious water targets and using practical methods to achieve these goals, according to McBride.

Nebraska uses a lot of water as a large producer of crops, withdrawing close to 10,000 gallons of water per day as of 2015. Many companies use the crops to make products such as animal feed and sweetener, which is why water resources in the state are important, McBride said.

Companies who are taking a holistic approach to setting water targets have the potential to drive improvements in water quality and water quantity on the ground with producers in states like Nebraska if the state is a major supply shed of their raw ingredients,” McBride said.

Sustainable agriculture — especially in Nebraska since the state is one of its produce sources — is important to Cargill because it’s a global food corporation. The company is committed to achieving sustainable water management in its operations and all priority watersheds by 2030, according to Truke Smoor, Cargill’s environmental compliance and sustainability director.

“We see agriculture as a very powerful way to advance our stewardship but to reduce emissions but also ensuring a safe and responsible and sustainable food system,” she said.

Cargill’s goals include restoring 600 billion liters of water in priority areas of land that drain rainfall to a nearby body of water also known as watersheds, reducing 5 million kilograms of pollutants in priority watersheds, improving access to safe drinking water in 25 priority watersheds and implementing its Water Stewardship program at all its priority facilities.

Carlo Galli, head of sustainability and technical director of water resources at Nestlé, said the company has an initiative to cut water use in all of its operations.

Nestlé, which has a factory in Crete, has a goal to reduce direct water withdrawals, certify all its manufacturing facilities with the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard and replenish 100% of the water it uses by 2025.

“This is very much to target the dependency issue we have in our factories,” Galli said. “The less you use water, the less you are dependent on water. I think this is also serving as the expectation — you hope — as an inspirational factor for other local water users to also become responsible in the way they use this precious resource.”

The Coca-Cola Company has a global vision to increase water security where it touches people’s lives, according to Ulrike Sapiro, senior director of global water stewardship and sustainable agriculture. 

She said the company aims to reduce local water challenges — such as scarcity and sanitation — in its operations, improve the health and sustainability of watersheds and increase the capacity of community water systems. 

The company intends to do this by achieving regenerative water use. Examples include reusing water to hose down streets or water parks and increased water treatments. Additionally, it will look to implement watershed stewardship plans and provide better access to water and sanitation in communities where it operates.

“We have been building on the work we’ve done on replenishment, efficiency, advocacy and access to water for communities to shape what we call the Water for Life strategy on water, which is identified as we have shaped or framed it as availability water, good quality of water, access of water to everybody and good governance,” Sapiro said.

Both Sapiro and Galli emphasized the ever-changing landscape of the freshwater as the environment evolves and how it could change company goals as new information is learned.

“The water stewardship is moving very fast as it will be for the commitments to reflect the way companies our size are taking these emerging issues,” Galli said.

Broadcast Production and Sports Media student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from Long Island, New York