2013: The Year in Water

Water Dec 26, 2013
Genevieve Bennett

As Ecosystem Marketplace looks back over water in 2013, it finds the year was marked by events like the Katoomba meeting in Beijing and the watershed payments report launch. Watershed investment programs were on the rise in East Africa where participants include flower-growers along Kenya’s Lake Naivasha and Tanga, Tanzania’s water utility.

26 December 2013 | 2013 began with the launch of our Charting New Waters: State of Watershed Payments report. Our latest global inventory of watershed investment mechanisms found more than $8 billion in annual activity, and a doubling in the number of active programs since our previous report.

We investigated a watershed investment program in Tanzania, where the city of Tanga’s water utility is promoting sustainable agriculture in the hills surrounding the city. “The project is basically an inexpensive alternative to an investment in a more expensive treatment plant,” says Tanga Chairman Raymond Mhando. “But it should also improve food security and income security for farmers, so it’s a classic win-win.”

Clearly, watershed investments can be good for livelihoods – but what about for equality? An Ecosystem Marketplace article took a look at water funds, innovative financing mechanisms employed by downstream water users to promote upstream land conservation. Water funds may present opportunities for impoverished women to participate in economic activities long left only for men – but only if such programs truly are meritocracies, and only if women themselves are able to grab the opportunity.

Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in the fall of 2012 led to interest from public officials in green infrastructure to protect urban and coastal areas from storm surges, and where better to look for ideas than that most flood-prone of places, the Netherlands?

In New York, a “storm panel” convened by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to make recommendations for preparing for future storm events like Sandy called for a range of natural infrastructure investments, like restoring oyster reefs along the city’s coastline and creating a dune system.

In February, we covered a new approach to remote sensing, using a military tool primarily deployed for surveillance work in Iraq and Afghanistan to monitor ecology instead. We also developed a primer on remote sensing for those new to the technologies.

That month, the World Resources Institute also launched its Aqueduct water risk mapping tool, while the Carbon Trust rolled out a new Water Standard.

March found us exploring watershed payment programs in Kenya in a special four-part series. We began with a look at the hydrology of the watershed and the key players on the shores and in the hills. We examined the challenge of developing a ground-breaking payments for watershed services (PWS) program that involves upstream farmers and downstream users. A third article considered the role that PWS can play in other programs underway in the watershed. And finally, we wrote about the impacts of the program on one Kenyan farmer, Chege Mwangi.

That month, the US Council on Environmental Quality initiated a commenting period on proposed new guidelines for evaluating Federal water resources investments. The proposed guidance includes an ecosystem services approach to evaluating new investments’ impacts on both the economy and the environment.

March also saw the release of a new report from Natlab on generating cash flows for green infrastructure, building on Philadelphia’s stormwater financing model.

World Water Day took place in late March. We covered a regional consultation on groundwater governance, where a fascinating conversation on the proper role of the private sector in water resource management took place.

Is the conversation about stacking – or layering multiple streams of environmental finance – becoming way too academic? That’s the question we asked in a piece exploring the real-world limits and potential of stacking.

An oil pipeline spill in Arkansas in April got us thinking about the impacts of oil on groundwater. An even bigger threat than the Arkansas spill is looming these days in Alberta, Canada, where tar sands waste is polluting water supplies with little monitoring or oversight.

That month, we also took a look at Mexico’s federal forest conservation program to protect watershed values, which began in the lecture halls of academia and today might offer some lessons to similar large-scale environmental compensation programs in other countries.

The 18th annual Katoomba Meeting convened in China in May, focusing on investments in forests and water. We were there to cover it, along with new features on watershed investments in China, including a massive program to reforest sloping lands, and support for innovative environmental incentives.

The Katoomba meeting brought together leaders in the watershed investments space from all over the world to consider China’s unique water-energy nexus challenges, the potential for South-South learning on solutions for water, and the role of green infrastructure in addressing China’s water woes.

Highlights of our live dispatches from the meeting included early signs of a shift in China toward courting private sector finance, a workshop tapping the collective wisdom of meeting attendees in designing a payment mechanism for Beijing’s Miyun Reservoir, and liveblogs capturing some of the brilliance flying around the event.

The meeting yielded recommendations scaling up watershed investments for the Miyun, within China, and at the global level, which you can view here. In June, we investigated a bi-national fisheries project between Belize and Guatemala that aims to build an organized union of local fisherfolk to manage the region’s natural resources and empower locals to meet the looming threat of oil exploitation.

The Natural Capital Declaration (NCD) began implementation of major commitments identified in the Declaration’s roadmap to 2020. The NCD is a global project that seeks to integrate natural capital – the ecological goods and services the Earth provides – into financial accounting, disclosure and reporting. It’s been endorsed by investors, insurance firms and banks; a total of 41 CEOs from financial institutions have signed the document.

In July, we kicked off the first of a series of stories focusing on the economics of ecosystem protection along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. A civil suit brought by the state’s flood protection authority against companies that have degraded coastal wetlands might have big implications for elevating natural infrastructure’s profile in the US.

Part Two: Building A More Resilient Gulf, looks at Tierra Resources’ new carbon methodology for wetland-restoration projects and explains why Entergy, the major utility in the region, has embraced the project.

We also took a broader look at Entergy’s efforts to identify and address climate-related risks in the Gulf.

Finally, Louisiana’s Wetlands: Why We Need Them, And Why Oil Companies Aren’t Alone On The Hot Seat focused on factors degrading the coast and driving the lawsuit in a Harry Shearer interview with SLFPAE vice president John Barry.

July also marked a new partnership between the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior focused on nature-based investments on western lands to protect water supplies from increased wildfire risk.

In September, a draft nutrient trading bill in Pennsylvania sparked a heated debate, with supporters anticipating a slash in the cost of Bay cleanup and opponents seeing technology that isn’t cost-competitive or compliant with state and federal regulations.

2013’s World Water Week theme was “water cooperation.” A coalition spanning the US-Mexico border offered a perfect example of that principle. The group is thinking outside the box to restore the Colorado River delta – using water rights markets, recaptured wastewater, and a groundbreaking new federal deal – that’s breathing new life into an ecosystem widely assumed to be gone forever.

An opinion piece in October asked why renewable energy projects are run through a professional combine while restoration projects receive a trophy just for playing? Instead, why not carefully evaluate output and return on investment of environmental restoration, and in doing so leverage far more private capital?

A profile on Julio Tresierra, a Peruvian sociologist dedicated to poverty alleviation, traced his work implementing investments in watershed services (IWS) projects in impoverished nations. Over the past four years, his ideas for IWS plans have been implemented in Indonesia, Peru and Guatemala benefitting hundreds of families.

Later in October, the World Resources Institute, together with Earth Economics and the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, published a detailed examination of the science, the finance, and the business case for meeting the challenge with new investments in forests and green infrastructure.

November saw the launch of the CDP 2013 Global Water Report, offering businesses’ reports on their water risk management. Though awareness and onsite-management have grown, businesses still seem to be missing risks “beyond the fence.”

We covered an “Office Hour” interactive chat with Linwood Pendleton, the Director of Ocean and Coastal Policy at Duke University, on marine and coastal ecosystem services. The questions were wide-ranging, but Pendleton focused on connecting with decision makers through relevant high quality data that is easily communicated.

And to close out 2013, an article on Monterrey, Mexico’s new water fund examined how the fund does double-duty water risk management, shielding Monterrey from both hurricane damage and drought effects.