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Water: A look at how we use a precious resource

Myths vs facts

Access to fresh water is a crucial issue, and as a significant user of this precious resource, we’re always looking for ways to use it more efficiently. To find out more about how we use water, we talked to Dr. Martin Fairbank, a Senior Technical Advisor who has worked with Resolute since 1985.

Martin, how important are forests to the world’s water supply?

Forests take up water from precipitation and from the ground and re-emit water vapor to the air through evapotranspiration. Forests also prevent soil erosion. I’d say they’re certainly important actors in the global water cycle.

How does the forest products industry impact water supply?

Our industry has learned over the years how to sustainably harvest wood with minimal impact on the environment. All of the forestland we manage is certified to Sustainable Forest Management Standards (SFMs), which not only ensures the healthy regrowth of the forest after harvesting, but addresses the protection of soil, water and biodiversity. One example of this is when we maintain buffer zones of forest on river banks – that’s done to prevent soil erosion.

What does Resolute use water for?

Our wood products facilities use relatively little water, but making pulp and paper requires a good deal of water. Resolute’s mills are all located near rivers and lakes with abundant water resources. We use the water for washing, screening, pulp transport, cooling and equipment cleaning as well to generate steam for drying, heating and power generation. During the process, the water is recycled many times. Before it’s released at the end of the process, we treat it to remove dissolved organic matter or suspended materials.

What happens to the water once we’ve used it?

About 95% of the water withdrawn is returned after use. All of our pulp and paper operations are equipped with effluent treatment operations to minimize the environmental impact to the receiving waters. Primary treatment removes solids, and secondary treatment reduces the dissolved organic content by biological oxidation. Sometimes, we add nutrients to the treatment process to ensure that the microbes are doing their job.

There are water discharge regulations in place to ensure that discharged water does not have an adverse affect on aquatic life and other potential uses of the water. Resolute monitors and controls its treatment facilities in order to meet discharge limits, which are typically related to suspended solids and dissolved organic material.
How do we make sure our operations aren’t harming the water supply?

At each of our pulp and paper mills, we’ve analyzed the “water stress.” We found that only one of our mills is in an area that has any risk of occasional water stress – our pulp and paper mill at Catawba, located on the Catawba River in South Carolina. Resolute is a member of the Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group, meeting at least once a year to discuss water supply issues in the Catawba River basin. We also have a tertiary treatment system available in Catawba, which can be used in times of drought to upgrade the effluent quality so that it can be re-used in the process.

We’ve looked at the effect of different climate change scenarios published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on future water stress, and even in the most pessimistic scenario, we don’t expect any significant change in water stress level.

And since 2012, Resolute has filed a report to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The report gives details on water use and management at our pulp and paper mills. Those details are available on the CDP website.

What is an Environmental Management System, and how can it help?

Resolute is committed to responsible management of our environmental footprint and protection of water resources wherever we operate. Part of our approach is to have an environmental management system (EMS) in each of our facilities – a systematic way of managing a facility’s environmental affairs, of which water management is just one aspect. Currently, 18 of our pulp and paper mills have their EMS certified to the ISO-14001 standard, and the remaining mills are working towards this certification.

Can we be doing more?

We’re always looking to improve, and water reduction is one area where improvement can often be made. When we recycle hot water to replace heated fresh water, we also see energy and cost savings. Some of the water reduction projects we have carried out to reduce water include:

  • Re-use of cooling water as process water input
  • Use of improved screening and filtration technology, enabling more recycling of process water
  • Measurement and control of processes enabling variable use of water rather than a fixed flow.

Why is this important to you personally?

It’s all about working on the three pillars of sustainability (environment, economy and society): minimizing the environmental impact, keeping the industry financially viable and allowing recreational activities to continue unabated on our waterways, such as the canoeing I enjoy in the summertime.

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