Access to water remains one of the biggest global challenges of the 21st century. Growing pressure on water resources, from population and economic growth, climate change, pollution, and other challenges, has major impacts on our collective social, economic, and environmental well-being.
As a water-dependent company, Hydro’s operations are reliant on access to sufficient water resources. Although our operations consume very little water, with the exception of evaporative losses, we do withdraw and discharge very large volumes of freshwater. We therefore have a significant influence on the availability and quality of water where we operate and must consider these impacts in our approach to water management.
The term ‘water stewardship’ is increasingly used by industry, governments and NGOs to describe actions to improve the efficiency and cleanliness of business operations and supply chains, while also facilitating the sustainable management of shared freshwater resources through collaboration. It recognizes that both business and societal risk is ultimately created when water is poorly managed or over-exploited.
As part of our own water stewardship approach, Hydro annually assesses the water balance of our global operations and determines to what extent we are located in water scarce regions. We use the WBCSD Global Water Tool to map our operational sites and determine which are located in water-stressed areas. In recent years, only a very small proportion of our sites are located within high water risk areas, and those sites typically have a closed-loop water system that increases water reuse and minimises our impact on the wider water catchment.
In reality, our most material water risks relate to the quality of the water that we discharge into the environment and the management of excess volumes of water (e.g. from flooding and rainfall).
All of our operational sites treat their own wastewater or deliver it to a third-party or municipal wastewater treatment plant for appropriate cleaning before discharge. In most instances, we follow the local and national regulations to determine the desired quality of our effluent discharge and monitor the appropriate parameters to ensure compliance.
We can also expect climate change to increase our exposure to flood risks at some of our key operational sites. It is important to identify those risks and take positive steps to increase our resilience and capacity to manage them. An example of this is the significant improvements to our water management system in Alunorte, where we have not only increased our capacity to store and treat wastewater, but also increased our ability to direct and control the different water streams on site with additional redundancies in pumping capacity. More information about our water management improvements at Alunorte can be found in the links to the left/right.
In Norway, Hydro also owns and operates several large networks of hydroelectric power plants. By their very nature, these power plants have a significant interaction with the aquatic and terrestrial habitats along the waterways where these plants are located. Our hydroelectric power plants have a direct influence on approximately 170 km2 of surface water and an indirect influence on 5 600 km2 of the wider water catchment. Furthermore, all of our reservoirs are located within or in close proximity to national parks and other protected areas. More information about our water management approach of our reservoirs in Norway can be found in the links to the left/right.
Hydro’s approach to water stewardship is guided by our participation in industry associations (e.g. ICMM, IAI and ASI) and the best practices detailed in their performance standards and other internationally recognised standards (e.g. IFC).
SDG 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation”
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity
6.6 By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
SDG 13 “Climate Action”
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
13.1 Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries
SDG 15 “Life on Land”
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
15.1 By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements