Water Synergy Project

For the past four years the US BCSD has been working with 23 diverse companies in the lower Mississippi River Basin to address a range of water supplywater qualitystormwater and coastal resiliency risks. Companies are working together to address water quality concerns through design of a Water Quality Trading Program, and have explored new options for wetlands restoration through changes in water management. Projects and policy recommendations have emerged that have been greeted with high interest by state and local agencies, academia, and NGOs. This multi-sector teaming demonstrates that there is considerable regional interest in using the speed and efficiency of market-based institutions to seek out ways of converting water problems into economic opportunities, and to developing a collective capacity for conserving watershed systems as both private and public goods.

Water issues are best addressed locally, but there are few forums where leaders from multiple industries can participate in focused interactions to identify issues, find and prioritize alternative solutions, and craft implementation plans for their region. The US BCSD uses structured work processes to provide a “safe” zone among companies to build trust and business relationships needed for information sharing that leads to inventive thinking and action.

Project Goals

  • Achieve tangible water synergy benefits for participating companies and the communities where they operate.

  • Link the efforts of the private sector with those underway in the public sector.

  • Establish a long-term water collaboration plan for this region.

  • Develop a replicable work process that can be applied in other watersheds/ regions.

“I think the Water Synergy Project was and is a great idea. All that I can say is that the sky is the limit as to where it can go and is up to the team to determine. The best thing about the project is the diverse group of stakeholders at all levels that it brought together. We have industry, agriculture, and regulatory representatives sitting at the same table, working together to develop innovative solutions to complex issues. I would be glad to discuss the Water Synergy Project with people from other regions.” Eric Hillman, EHS Specialist, BASF

Path to Scale

Idea (2012): adapt the US BCSD's regional work process, proven effective on materials reuse projects, to address local water issues in water-stressed regions.

Action (current): four years in, participating companies in southern Louisiana are continuing to work together to identify and implement actionable projects and opportunities. Examples are outlined below.

Scale: replicate the project in multiple regions across the US, deploy the coastal zone resiliency financing initiative, and share our results world-wide for international adoption.

Louisiana Water Synergy Project Participants

financial supporters, partners, collaborators and stakeholders include

Project Results

Based on participant feedback, one of the most important values this project delivers is that it brings business leaders from multiple industries together to talk with each other and with government, academic, and NGO leaders about regional water sustainability issues and take action to address those issues. That was not happening before this project.

The project is receiving increased recognition as an effective and scalable business solution for watershed stewardship. For example, since 2014 Yale University has featured the project in the Yale Global Natural Capital MBA Course, highlighting how participation is supporting Coca-Cola’s corporate commitment to sustainable water use for their operations. Because of this success, US BCSD is identifying other watersheds where this type of project can be replicated. The following projects demonstrate the types of collaborative work underway in the project and expected outcomes.

Coastal Zone Resiliency Financing Initiative

The Water Synergy Project has identified challenges around the availability of funding, especially for capital investments in natural of hybrid (green-gray) infrastructure that can scale up coastal restoration efforts. This initiative was established to explore better ways to attract and leverage that investment. A wide variety of infrastructure projects (marsh vegetative planting, breakwaters, sediment diversions, etc.), are proposed to support coastal zone protection and restoration. These projects can create multiple benefits for multiple beneficiaries that may make projects extremely valuable and leverage investment well. However the benefits are not easily collected, quantified, and monetized in a way that satisfies either public or private funders. As a result, funding may be too little, too late, or both under existing funding mechanisms.

We plan to use “live case studies” to create and test a breakthrough process to attract private capital to supplement and leverage public sector funding for coastal zone restoration. Our goal is to build a replicable model for application in Louisiana and beyond by 2017.

Louisiana Coastal Zone Game

With funding support from ConocoPhillips and Entergy, the University of Virginia Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming has built a prototype for a high quality, analytically rich multi-player simulation game of the Louisiana coastal zone to engage and educate stakeholders about coastal resilience challenges and solutions. The game focuses on environmental issues and impacts, but includes a broader range of social and economic consequences. It offers a proven approach to stimulating constructive conversations around critical issues by enabling players to explore and understand mutual interests, trade-offs, and unintended consequences of business decisions as they take stakeholder roles like fishermen, corporations, developers, federal, state and local government, and NGOs. Next step is gaining input from actual game deployments to complete the game final version in 2016.

Water Quality/Ecosystem Service Trading Program

Project participants are working with several state agencies to design a framework for an innovative water quality/ecosystem services trading program for Louisiana. This program will help demonstrate that voluntary measures can successfully improve water quality in Louisiana at a lower cost than traditional regulatory approaches while also increasing coastal resiliency and groundwater recharge through restoration and protection of wetlands and floodplains. In addition, this program may provide agricultural businesses and landowners with additional revenue sources and regulators with more policy options for improving water quality.

Updated Nutrient Inventory for the Mississippi River Industrial Corridor

In 2014, Water Synergy Project participants sponsored an update of the 2000 Mississippi River Industrial Corridor (MRIC) in Louisiana. Without this sponsorship there was no funding for an update of this 15-year old document, and the information was important to understanding current conditions and MRIC contributions to the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone.

The update reconfirmed that industry point sources in Louisiana contribute a very small fraction of total nutrients in the Mississippi River. Also, the update reports that nitrogen discharges from Louisiana sanitary wastewater treatment facilities are approximately 3 times the amount of nitrogen discharges from industrial point sources.

  • The 2000 inventory data was used in the Louisiana State Nutrient Management Strategy. The updated inventory will be useful to state and federal agencies to confirm that point source nutrient discharges are still low, despite significant industrial growth in the region in the last 15 years.
  • Recommendations to improve the robustness of the data set for future inventories have been defined and action plans have been proposed to address those changes.