Why it matters

To meet growing global needs, current and future agricultural production must be managed safely and sustainably. Agriculture is highly dependent on water, but localized challenges exist regarding availability and quality, which can vary significantly by region, and are often intensified by the effects of climate change.

Water is also an essential input to our operations, especially in mining and fertilizer production. As it is a shared resource, it is important for Nutrien and our growers to use water efficiently and protect water quality, helping to maintain positive environmental impacts and ensuring long-term operational stability and viability.

Our water stewardship work supports the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

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Our approach

We recognize the need for equitable sharing of water resources and are mindful of regional water use, needs and conditions. We take actions to be good water stewards within the basins where we operate. We established Nutrien’s Water Strategic Issue Team, a company-wide cross-functional group of subject matter experts, to review Nutrien’s water footprint and identify water-related risks and opportunities across our value chain. The team identifies opportunities that support water stewardship and develops stakeholder engagement strategies. 

We take a watershed perspective across our operations to help us look outside our operational boundaries and understand the many environmental and social aspects of the watersheds in which we operate. Communities with whom our operations share watersheds rely on access to sufficient quantities of clean water for health, quality of life, economic well‐being and local environmental preservation. Nutrien is committed to working collaboratively to address shared water‐related challenges and opportunities. We support water stewardship in agriculture, starting at the farm field, through use of practices, products and digital tools that support sustainable agriculture and water stewardship in the entire agri-food value chain.

Our actions

Corporate Water Stewardship Accelerator

In 2021, Nutrien partnered with The Water Council to pilot the Corporate Water Stewardship Accelerator ("CWSA"). Through our piloting of the CWSA, Nutrien was able to understand, build and communicate our path forward on water stewardship. This pathway includes setting meaningful goals and context-based targets for site-based water management in our operations that help mitigate identified water-related risks, and leveraging our position in the agri-food value chain to meaningfully participate in global water stewardship efforts in the agri-food value chain for collective action and impact.

Nutrien is a member of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), and will evaluate setting an AWS Standard adoption strategy for our high water-risk facilities. Use of the AWS Standard helps to identify and pursue opportunities to be better water stewards in our operational watersheds at the local level, while reducing water-related risks. This includes working with local stakeholders to understand the unique challenges of the watershed and focusing our efforts on collective action and advocacy for positive environmental, social and economic outcomes.

Site-based water management in our operations

Our primary uses of water are for producing nutrients, such as milling in mining operations, steam generation and process cooling at our fertilizer production facilities. Water is also used to produce some of our liquid products. Water availability is crucial for our two Phosphate and six Potash mining operations. The majority of our fertilizer production facilities use freshwater resources (for example, rivers or groundwater) to supply the water needed for operations. At some locations we use alternative water sources, including gray water, ocean water or recycled water. We manage our operations with permits to protect receiving waters, lands and public works.

We care for water quality by managing:

  • Water discharges: We protect water quality thresholds for our facility water discharges through engineering controls, testing and monitoring programs, and treatment if required. Where needed, we incorporate water treatment technologies and best practices to minimize impacts on water quality.
  • Storm water: Rainwater can transport materials into surface water bodies. Some of our operations are engineered to handle large rain events during which excess storm water is managed with diversion channels and directed to storm or tailings ponds, permitted injection wells and/or storm water discharge facilities. We also divert clean off-site storm water to natural drainage channels and prevent it from entering our sites where possible.
  • Gypstack water discharge and treatment: Pore water within our gypstacks (stockpiles of phosphogypsum byproduct from phosphoric acid production), and storm water runoff that comes into contact with open gypstacks may be acidic. When gypstacks are formally closed per approved closure plan, Nutrien limits storm water infiltration by surface grading the gypstacks, and placement of appropriate cover systems. Non-contact storm water, or water that does not infiltrate the closed gypstack, is managed per permit and/or agency approvals. Pore water that drains from closed gypstacks is collected and treated, or alternatively managed (reused), according to regulatory requirements before final discharge or disposition.
  • Phosphate mine reclamation: As part of current reclamation practices, the material that is removed from the upper layers of the mine (overburden) is backfilled. If the naturally occurring metals in the overburden materials come into contact with water from precipitation (as was allowed in legacy practices), the metals can begin to leach, negatively impacting nearby surface water and groundwater. We preserve surface water quality through proper phosphate mine reclamation including installation of low permeability caps as necessary on overburden materials.

Water stewardship in the agri-food value chain

With Nutrien’s extensive Retail network and on-the-ground agronomic expertise, we are in a unique position to connect farmers with current and future sustainability opportunities, including implementing agricultural water stewardship through management practices that create positive outcomes for water, land, air and biodiversity.

Agricultural Water Futures Project

The Agricultural Water Futures ("AWF") Project is a continued collaboration that Nutrien has helped fund and lead since 2016. It envisions a system that incorporates incentives for growers, including ecosystem services valuation, effective monitoring and credits management. The previous phase of work examined the need for watershed action in the agricultural community, the range of water quality and quantity trading programs that exist in other parts of the world, and some of the ways data technology could be harnessed to inform a trading system. This next phase of the project explores water stewardship implementation in the potato supply chain in southern Alberta, Canada to develop a globally replicable step-wise process for water stewardship with widely recognized value.


Dive into our performance

ESG Targets

ESG Report

Data Tool