New method of testing local water resources reveals regional variances

ENEA's newly developed method to evaluate water stress was tested in several regions of Italy, focused on water stress, total factory basin impact, and corporate water reuse efficiency.

In brief: 
  • ENEA's new method provides a detailed assessment of industrial activity impact on local water resources, using three indicators to evaluate water stress, total factory basin impact, and corporate water reuse efficiency
  • Its application in different Italian regions revealed varying levels of water stress, highlighting the need for region-specific strategies to manage industrial water use
  • The findings underscore the importance of adopting sustainable industrial practices to mitigate water stress.
In detail: 

A groundbreaking method to evaluate the impact of industrial activities on local water resources has been developed by the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA). 

The development came as part of the RECIProCO project, funded by the Ministry of Business and Made in Italy. 

Under the project this new approach was recently tested in Italy on two paper mills and a textile industry where it provided a new lens through which to understand and manage the effects of industrial water use on rivers and lakes. 

ENEA’s method used three key indicators: the Water Stress Index of consumption and withdrawal (Water Consumption Stress Index - WCSI), the Total Factory Basin Index (OFBI), and the Corporate Water Reuse Index (Internal Water Reuse - IWR). 

These indicators collectively provided a comprehensive picture of industrial water use's impact on basins and sub-basins, considering factors such as seasonal variability, critical periods and historical trends.

The method was applied to industries in the Brenta-Baccaglione in Veneto, Arno in Tuscany sub-basins, and near the Ticino River in Lombardy. 

ENEA head of laboratory of technologies for an efficient use and management of water and wastewater, Luigi Petta, noted significant differences in water stress across these regions. 

For instance, while northern Italy exhibited limited water stress, central Italy, along with Sicily, Puglia and Basilicata regions, have faced medium to high water distress.

Further, the OFBI index revealed varying impacts of industrial activities on local water resources. For instance, the Lombard textile company had a minimal impact (0.002%) on the Ticino's water balance, whereas the Tuscan paper mill had a more substantial impact (0.192%) on the Arno. 

However, the Tuscan mill was also noted for its high water reuse efficiency (98%).

According to Petta, the importance of this new method sits in providing valuable insights for local administrations, consumers and businesses to understand and assess the impact on local water stress. 

With global water demand projected to reach 6,000 billion cubic metres per year by 2050, driven by population growth and climate change, such methods are crucial for supporting new production and consumption models aimed at reducing water usage.

In Italy, industry consumes approximately 5.5 billion cubic metres of water annually, accounting for 21% of the total consumption. However, agriculture remains the most water-intensive sector, using over 50% of the water. This trend mirrors the European scenario where agricultural activities dominate water consumption.

This method by ENEA marks a significant step towards more sustainable industrial practices, offering a tool to measure and manage the environmental impact of industrial activities on vital water resources.

Full findings of the report can be found at the Journal of Environmental Management.