08.25.22 | Leadership

Q&A with The Nature Conservancy: Restoring Watersheds for Future Generations

Water is a vital and finite natural resource that needs protection and advocacy – especially at the local level. It is therefore our responsibility to be good stewards of the water we use while doing our part to help ensure the resiliency of water resources for future generations.

As such, in our operations, we continue implementing our robust water management strategies and invest in water efficiency measures, driven by companywide restoration targets and accountability standards.

But that’s only part of our approach, as we believe water challenges are bigger than any one organization can tackle. Our ambition is to protect our communities’ water resources by partnering with leaders and organizations like The Nature Conservancy (TNC) that work to restore local watersheds and create dynamic water management programs. During World Water Week, we were proud to announce a two-year commitment totaling $700,000 in contributions to support their work.

Our GM Environmental Sustainability - Global Wine & Spirits, Matt McGinness, connected with Rodd Kelsey, Associate Director, California Water Program, The Nature Conservancy, and Michael Matosich, Corporate Strategy Associate, Global Water Security, The Nature Conservancy to discuss more about the impact of the partnership.

Can you share more about the Dynamic Water Program and Constellation Brands’ participation?

Matt:

The dynamic water management programs bring to life important proof-of-concept strategies that could be scaled up to address the broader water challenges we currently see across the state of California, and elsewhere.

This work will play a role in testing scientific conservation strategies that can unlock long-term water benefits to stakeholders depending on a reliable water resource.

Rodd:

The water needs of people and nature are highly dynamic, especially in regions like California that see natural seasonal and annual swings in water availability. Our challenge is to find a balance where we can meet the needs of all at the intersection of nature, agriculture, and people.

To balance these needs in major agricultural landscapes like the Central Valley of California, The Nature Conservancy and its partners are developing dynamic approaches to conservation that work in such a variable water environment.

In California’s Central Valley, we work with farmers and public agencies to deliver wetland habitat seasonally on farmlands when and where migratory birds need it most, while ensuring it fits within the cycle of farming. We are now testing ways to use the same market-based approaches to incentivize farmers in the San Joaquin Valley to reduce their water demand in drought by fallowing some of their land and planting wildlife-friendly, soil-building cover crops.

Constellation’s contribution will support our work with farmers in the San Joaquin Valley to make the most of California’s variable water supplies from year to year. We will explore how we can expand our conservation approaches to include both on-farm flooding when water is abundant and turn to cover-crop programs when water is scarce.

What is unique about the program in San Joaquin Valley, California, that can help inform water security efforts at scale?

Matt:

The San Joaquin Valley is both a critical food production hub, as well as a major consumer of water relative to irrigation needs. Over time, increased groundwater pumping has led to dwindling supply and land damage impacting wells, roads, and other infrastructure. Focusing on critically impacted areas that support the state’s livelihood not only helps inform success elsewhere but moves to address long-term security for stakeholders in this region.

Rodd:

The San Joaquin Valley is just one example of a region that has relied heavily on groundwater to grow and sustain a major agricultural economy. The good news is that there are nature-based solutions that can help balance water use with natural supplies, while also benefitting nature and communities. By permanently restoring some lands and appropriately managing annually fallowed farmlands, we can recharge groundwater aquifers, increase soil health, improve air and water quality in this region, provide natural open spaces for communities, and recover natural ecosystems.

If we collectively do this well, it will be an example of what is possible to balance the needs of people and nature. Our hope is that other agricultural regions around the world that are facing similar challenges in unsustainable water demand and land degradation will apply the lessons we have learned.

What are some other nature-based solutions for water stewardship?

Michael:

One of the great characteristics of nature-based solutions (NBS) is the variety of options available. NBS implementers can pick and choose from various solutions that are best suited for a particular habitat (e.g., agricultural, forests, wetlands, etc.), intervention (e.g., restoration, management, protection, etc.), or desired benefit (e.g., water quantity, carbon, socio-economic, etc.).

A few examples of NBS that support water stewardship include the removal of invasive species or hard surfaces, aquifer recharge, planting or maintaining native vegetation or vegetation buffers, and fire management. Communities, businesses, governments, and water utility companies around the world are implementing NBS to promote resilient watersheds.

How has your role in sustainability evolved over the past few years?

Matt:

Our Wine & Spirits Division has long held sustainable operating practices at the heart of what we do. As an agriculturally dependent business, we acutely recognize the value of working in union with nature and contributing to practices that leave the environment in an improved condition for future generations.

How has The Nature Conservancy’s role in corporate sustainability evolved over the past few years?

Michael:

For decades, The Nature Conservancy has recognized that the private sector has an important role to play in advancing our conservation mission. We are working across all sectors of industry and society to help advance our mission of conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.

From advising companies on setting sustainability goals and science-based targets and strategies, to developing watershed health plans and convening some of the world’s largest companies to support projects, The Nature Conservancy has shared its science, expertise, and tools like NBS Benefits Explorer and WaterProof, with companies to co-create strategies that incorporate the value of nature, develop innovative models for financing, and influence policy. We work across sectors and industries where our practical, scientific approach to conservation can have a significant impact on how companies do business.

What other steps is Constellation’s Wine & Spirits Business taking towards a sustainable future?

Matt:

The near-term focus of our Wine & Spirits Division is within California, which represents 70% of our water use. In our California operations, we are working to improve water efficiency by implementing employee education programs and supporting greater adherence to water management best practices to further reduce our overall water withdrawal and use.

We have invested in expanded capabilities and instrumentation within our facilities to provide improved tracking, which helps to optimize our use of water. Across our California vineyard operations, these technologies help maximize water efficiency and minimize overwatering, excess runoff, erosion, and unnecessary depletion of the source supply.

To learn more about Constellation's water stewardship strategy and efforts, please visit our Sustainability page.