Latest On The Conservation Gateway

A well-managed and operational Conservation Gateway is in our future! Marketing, Conservation, and Science have partnered on a plan to rebuild the Gateway into the organization’s enterprise content management system (AEM), with a planned launch of a minimal viable product in late 2024. If you’re interested in learning more about the project, reach out to for more info!

Welcome to Conservation Gateway

The Gateway is for the conservation practitioner, scientist and decision-maker. Here we share the best and most up-to-date information we use to inform our work at The Nature Conservancy.

Science in the TNC-Dow Collaboration Analysis #1: Long-Term Freshwater Planning

McDonald, Rob 4/16/2012

What is the business challenge at the site that you are addressing?

Business and communities need access to adequate, consistent supplies of water to operate. But water scarcity is increasingly a problem in many river basins. Human demand for water is increasing at the same time that climate change is altering the amount of water available. It is difficult for businesses to make decisions about water when there is such uncertainty about the future availability or the true value of water.
In this project, we are looking at the likely trends for future water supply and demand for one particular river basin, the Brazos Basin in Texas. We will then work with Dow to help it evaluate its options for responding to future water availability by considering the value of water to its business, to local communities and to ecosystems.
What role does the value of nature play in your analysis? How is this analysis using/advancing conservation science and tools?
In the Brazos, as in many basins, there is a big difference between what people pay for water and its value. Many water users have water rights, and can effectively have water for free, except for the costs of pumping. However, water is far more valuable. Dow’s facility, for instance, couldn’t operate without a consistent supply of freshwater, which is currently being supplied from the Brazos. Similarly, local municipalities, farmers, recreational users and ecosystems all depend on the water in the Brazos.
Providing methods for Dow to account for the value of water to its business as well as to other users and ecosystems will be beneficial to improving Dow’s decisions about what actions to take in response to increasing water scarcity. For instance, if Dow understands the value of water to its business, this understanding can guide it on how much to invest in securing future supplies of water. Dow can also evaluate alternative investments to secure water — for instance, through on-site efficiency or off-site arrangements with other users in the basin, or through conservation — by considering the costs and benefits of these investments to Dow, other users and ecosystems.
Working closely with the Conservancy’s climate change team and with hydrologists at the University of Washington, we have come up with daily forecasts of how river flow in the Brazos will change for a given emissions scenario and general circulation model. The real novelty of our work, however, is providing an example of how a business can incorporate the economic costs of changes in water availability into its decision-making.
How could this analysis change how Dow does business?
It’s already helped Dow begin considering how climate change might affect future water supply in to the Brazos, which will affect all its future decisions about water use at the facility. Moreover, knowing the value of water to Dow and other stakeholders should help us identify adaptations that might reduce the water crunch in the basin.
What are the potential conservation outcomes from this analysis?
We hope this analysis will pave the way for a broader conversation about the implications of climate change in the Brazos and allow for future water conservation programs that lessen the water crunch. Moreover, if more water can be left in the river, it will help the Brazos achieve the environmental flow targets currently being established for consideration by the state of Texas. More water left in the river will likely help several imperiled freshwater species in the Brazos.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered doing this work?
The biggest challenge has also been one of the most exciting parts of the work, which is having to work on a collaborative basis with another organization that has a very different organizational culture. It takes a lot of conversations to begin to speak each other’s language, and until you have gained that common understanding it is hard to accurately define the goals and methods of the project. 

By Rob McDonald, senior scientist for sustainable land use, Sustainability Science Team, The Nature Conservancy

Image: Dow Freeport, TX facility and Brazos River. Image credit: Jennifer Molnar/ TNC.
See links to related articles below: