Water stewardship and wine

by | Jun 30, 2021 | Article, Wineland

SRK Consulting principal consultant Fiona Sutton

Whether you are a farmer or a business, water is essential to your processes; water scarcity is one of the greatest risks facing both. Taking a water stewardship approach provides water users with a process to evaluate their water use – helping recognise water risks and understand water use and the associated impacts at every level.

Water resource management in South Africa

The National Water Act of 1998 (NWA) is the principal legal instrument for water resources management in South Africa. Through the NWA, the then-Minister of Water Affairs (the department is now known as Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation) established a National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS) in 2004.

The NWRS1 of 2004 was further developed and the NWRS2 – which supports sustainable development – was launched in July 2013. The NWRS2 highlights that water supports development, contributing to job creation and the elimination of poverty and inequality. It therefore emphasises that water needs to be protected, through being managed and controlled sustainably and equitably.

The Alliance for Water Stewardship

The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) – a global membership collaboration of businesses, NGOs and the public sector – defines water stewardship as “the use of water in a way that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that includes both site- and catchment-based actions”.  This definition supports the core objectives in the NWRS2, where good water stewardship and good water governance are intrinsically linked.

Sustainable water management, and water stewardship specifically, provides a process to evaluate water use. A stewardship approach to water management is increasingly recognised as the most appropriate framework for meaningful action, enabling companies to safeguard their business and their finite water supply. This approach helps businesses to understand the risks they face – from water scarcity to pollution – and to take action that ensures water is managed sustainably as a shared, public resource.

The AWS is a member of ISEAL (the global membership organisation for ambitious, collaborative and transparent sustainability systems), so its water stewardship framework is credible, beneficial and globally applicable, particularly to major water users. The framework allows businesses to be recognised for their efforts and ultimately to improve their performance in the value chain.

Water stewardship for agri-business

Being a good water steward means producers understand their own water use in detail, and can therefore manage their own risks. This ensures they have the water they need to continue their farming and production processes, while also promoting long-term water security for all.

Water stewardship is an overarching, dynamic framework for understanding and addressing water risks to business. By understanding their water use and the impacts caused by their operations, producers can identify and manage the risks, and promote sustainable water management in catchments of strategic importance to the farm. They can also demonstrate social responsibility by minimising the negative impacts of the farming operation on other water users and the natural environment.

Good water stewardship also helps a producer understand the broader water issues beyond the fence line, i.e. the risk of external impacts on the farm.

Fresh water demand will be 6 900 km3 per year by 2030

Advantages of better agricultural water management

Adhering to water management standards strengthens a business’s reputation. Trust has become the ultimate currency in today’s business environment. Millennial consumers in particular are driving this trend; they believe the goal of businesses should be to improve society. By protecting people and the environment, you will protect the future of your enterprise. This also reduces costs through improvements in water infrastructure and by engaging with other catchment stakeholders to collaborate and share knowledge.

Standards pave the way to an improved understanding of regulatory risks, allowing the business to comply with regulations and prepare for possible future changes in legislation. By applying agricultural water management standards, farm management has a much richer knowledge of the catchment, its hydrological dynamics and the stakeholders involved. This enables them to be better prepared for droughts and climate change, and to develop mitigation strategies that will build resilience in their business. Understanding the catchment dynamics will also assist with monitoring of water quality.

The AWS Standard allows water users to improve their engagement with other users in the area, facilitating better catchment water management through sharing of knowledge, communicating actions and seeking coordination. The standard can be used by a producer as a reference to evaluate if he is a good water steward and what he needs to improve on to become a more sustainable producer. Ultimately the producer can then choose to become certified if it is required by the consumers and buyers, for instance.

How to identify your risks

There are various water tools available to help producers understand their water risks. Once the risks are identified and understood, mitigation measures can be implemented.

WWF’s Water Risk Filter supports water users in exploring, assessing and responding to their specific water risks. It uses 32 data layers that are subject to peer review and updated annually. The tool also uses a site-based operational risk questionnaire to enable users to understand and prioritise water risks at specific sites. Designed to be easy to use for experts and non-experts alike, this is the only water risk tool that assesses both catchment and operational risks.

WRI Aqueduct uses open-source, peer reviewed data to map water risks such as floods, droughts and stress.

The AWS Standard enables water-using sites to understand and address shared catchment water challenges as well as site water risks and opportunities. It asks water-using sites to address these challenges in a way that progressively moves them to best practice in terms of five outcomes:

  • Good water governance
  • Sustainable water balance
  • Good water quality status
  • Important water related areas
  • Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) for all.


Implementing the AWS Standard can deliver many benefits, as it supports wine producers in better understanding their water dependencies and impacts, and in mitigating their operational and supply chain water risks. The standard guides them in putting responsible water procedures in place, and in building relationships with local water-related stakeholders – which in turn helps to address challenges shared with others in the catchment.

Fiona Sutton can be contacted with any enquiries at fsutton@srk.co.za.

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