Healthy, productive forests are some of nature's best water managers. The trees, plants and soil absorb falling rain and snow, allowing a forest to capture and slowly release clean water into the many streams, rivers and groundwater systems in its watershed.
We believe our world needs a clean and abundant water supply to sustain populations, support ecosystems and maintain a stable global economy. We're in the right business to help meet this need. The more than 27 million acres of timberlands we manage worldwide are critical to providing clean water to communities downstream from our forests and to the larger water cycle. We don't take this responsibility lightly.
REDUCING WATER USE
Making our cellulose fiber products requires a lot of water in the manufacturing process, most of which is reused internally in our mills and then returned, clean, to the original water source. A small amount is actually used (or consumed) during the manufacturing process.
Still, we are committed to reducing our water use in our mills. We focus our efforts on our cellulose fibers facilities, by far the largest water users in our company. Since 2007, these facilities have reduced water discharge per ton of pulp produced (our metric for water use) by 12 percent. To meet our goal of 30 percent reduction by 2020, our mills will likely require continued capital investments, such as upgrades to cooling towers, and continued process improvements. Some of these investments may also help our facilities save energy by not having to heat as much water, which can translate into direct financial savings as well. A triple win.
Even with a focus on water efficiency and process improvement, in 2015 our manufacturing facilities experienced an increase in total water discharge. This increase was primarily due to separate facilities that:
- Increased freshwater usage to meet a quality requirement.
- Experienced a temporary open valve.
- Withstood huge rain events and thus diverted an unusual amount of stormwater into our wastewater-treatment system.
- Diverted a large quantity of effluent to avoid a water quality issue.
We will continue to stay focused on reducing water use where possible, weighing product- and water-quality requirements.
IMPROVING WATER QUALITY
Water quality begins in our forests. We protect water quality by grading and maintaining roads to channel runoff to the forest floor (which keeps silt away from streams), building culverts and bridges to allow fish passage, and seeding exposed road banks with grasses to prevent erosion. We also have robust research and monitoring programs in place to ensure forest management practices do not harm water quantity or quality. Over the past few years, we've invested millions of dollars for road improvements on our western timberlands to separate our road network from the stream network, resulting in improved fish passage and habitat as well as water quality.
Our manufacturing facilities treat wastewater on-site or discharge water to public treatment facilities to remove pollutants. The wastewater we discharge must meet stringent monitoring and quality-limit requirements. Some examples of our wastewater treatment include engineered wetlands, treated wastewater holding ponds to allow controlled flow to better protect receiving water quality, and injection of high-purity oxygen into treated wastewater.
Similar to our water use, we focus most of our water-quality efforts on our cellulose fiber manufacturing facilities. Our facilities are committed to reducing biological oxygen demand (BOD) in wastewater discharge by 10 percent per ton of pulp production by 2020 compared with 2010 levels. BOD measures the amount of oxygen required to decompose organic materials in wastewater and is a standard measure of water quality in our industry. By the end of 2015, our mills achieved a 9 percent reduction in BOD per ton of production compared with 2010. This is an increase in BOD from the previous year, but we still believe we are on track for achieving our 2020 goal.