Microsoft works with Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Trout Unlimited to support water replenishment in Washington

 |   Paul Fleming, Water Program Manager at Microsoft

a Microsoft employee weaving saplings

On a crisp autumn day just outside the town of Peshashtin in central Washington, I could be seen alongside seven other Microsoft employees hauling bunches of dogwood and alder saplings down a steep embankment in Darby Canyon to the trickling creek below. For a day, we stepped away from our standing desks and back-to-back Skype meetings to roll up our sleeves and work with Trout Unlimited on a fascinating project, constructing beaver dam analogs – BDAs – on Darby Creek.

Let me answer the two obvious questions here. First, what are BDAs? They are lines of pilings driven into the streambed with branches woven between them that mimic the functionality of beaver dams, generating a host of water availability and quality benefits, such as reducing sediments and stream temperature in the summer. Secondly, why are Microsoft employees weaving beaver dams in central Washington? Believe it or not, this project represents the future of our approach to water, and specifically water replenishment.

Microsoft has been taking actions, within our operations and with our partners, to use less water and preserve this vital natural resource. Overall, our approach rests on four cornerstones: understanding water risks, setting water reduction goals, investing in replenishment, and fostering digital transformation in the water space. Increasingly, we’re looking beyond conservation to include replenishment in this water strategy.

By supporting water replenishment, we have an opportunity to balance our consumption of water, while generating tangible water benefits for the ecosystems and communities where we operate. As a changing climate and competing demands for water put greater pressure on this essential resource, it’s important for companies like Microsoft to engage in water replenishment, particularly in water-stressed regions where we have substantial operations.

One such region is central Washington, where we have datacenter operations, and just over the mountains, our global headquarters in Redmond. Given the proximity and import to our business, it just made sense as the location for our initial investments in water replenishment. In addition to the BDA project, Microsoft partnered with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to support projects that will increase flows and habitat conditions for migrating fish, remove fish passage barriers, and test new irrigation techniques that can improve the quality and quantity of fruit, while using less water. These projects are designed to produce tangible benefits that are meaningful for the aquatic environment and for the agricultural sector in the area.

Our work won’t end here. Microsoft is a global company with an operational presence around the world and we want our water stewardship program to span the globe as well. To accomplish this, we’re evaluating what we’ve learned in central Washington and are experimenting with ways to apply it more broadly. We know that as we explore scaling replenishment, we’ll need to keep some key factors in mind:

  • Replenishment investments should be informed by what’s happening on the ground in a region with respect to water – this could vary from lack of availability of water for aquatic species to inadequate access to drinking water for people. The famous axiom “all politics are local” could be applied to water, with “water” replacing “politics.”
  • Working with partners who understand what is happening on the ground is critically important, and we need to collaborate with them and listen to their guidance.
  • Replenishment investments should be directed toward activities that will contribute to alleviating water stress.

We endeavor to make our operational commitments serve a higher value than just improving our operations – from carbon neutrality, renewable energy, AI for Earth, and beyond, we are focused on making changes that can scale globally and deliver benefits well outside of our four walls. As we explore the role Microsoft can play in water, we’ll look to and build off the work, experiences and lessons learned along the way to advance an environmentally sustainable agenda. Follow this blog to learn about our progress.

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