Implications from Five Industrial Sectors on the Changing Value of Water

By Mike Matichich, Marek Mierzejewski, Bill Byers, Dan Pitzler, and Sartaz Ahmed


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Water plays a key role in industrial production. Today, with increasing demand for water resources and uncertainty about the amount and quality of supply, the competition for water resources is being felt across all sectors of society. Awareness of the ways water-related risks can disrupt business has also increased. Although the cost and price of water varies tremendously across the United States, corporations are increasingly assessing and reporting their water use and improving water process efficiency. In addition, companies are seeking economic and technological innovations. Many companies are also forging partnerships to improve efficiency and derive maximum value from the water they and the surrounding community use. Background This article examines the changing value of water in five industrial sectors: semiconductor manufacturing, thermal power generation, mining, chemicals, and oil and gas. The case studies for the five sectors analyzed draw on a number of information sources, including economic information published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In addition, the authors have conducted interviews with representatives of firms engaged in water policy decisions in each of the sectors and have reviewed a variety of company documents. Water is a critical component in all sectors of the U.S. economy and serves a range of different uses, from direct input to supporting operations. Where it is not part of or the end product itself (as in the agricultural and food and beverage sectors), water is used in production processes in varied ways, ranging from its use as a transportation medium (e.g., carrying copper concentrate) to high-purity cleaning (as in semiconductor fabrication). Waterメs value in these uses is determined both by its available quantity and quality. The prevailing environmental regulations may further influence the decision to discharge or reclaim process wastewater.

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