The Business of Water: A New Age of Investment Trends and Technologies

By Patrick McVeigh

Water is one of the world’s most precious resources. Ongoing efforts are focused on battling drought conditions in populous regions around the world, while the U.S. places a growing emphasis on water education.  Businesses that tackle water conservation and replenishment are key to providing solutions and will have the opportunity to take leadership positions in the industry.

According to the World of Meteorological Organization: “it is very likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, with global temperature even higher than the record-breaking temperatures in 2015.” Along with the threat of global warming, sustained droughts are becoming a mainstay for regions across the world, with 10 percent of the world’s population (663 million people) lacking access to safe water.

The threat of expensive water rights is therefore looming.  In most parts of the country, relative luxuries such as internet and cell phone services still cost quite a bit of more than water, which has been seen as a necessity that should be distributed at a low price. However, the average cost of that perceived right to water is already on the rise, having increased 48 percent since 2010.

The business sector is rising to meet a range of these associated challenges, and perhaps the most pressing is the steady decline of universal access to potable water. Water.org estimates that every $1 invested in water and sanitation provides a $4 economic return, and companies looking to support and invest in preservation and reuse technologies will leap to the foreground.

A clear opportunity exists for managing systems that will have an impact on water consumption and conservation:

Irrigation

Producing crops is critical to a growing population, making efficient irrigation a paramount concern. National Geographic estimated that the use of micro-irrigation has risen worldwide at least 6.4-fold, from 1.6 million hectares to more than 10.3 million.

Even more efficient than the spray irrigation system is drip irrigation, a practice seeing heavy use in arid climates as it delivers water predictably and directly to plant roots, making it a highly effective and conservative method. Compared with conventional irrigation, drip methods can reduce the volume of water applied to fields by up to 70 percent, while increasing crop yields by 20-90 percent.

Metering

Household leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide, the equivalent of the annual household water use of more than 11 million homes.  Conservation requires stemming these losses – and calls for tracking water use (and loss) at a more granular level. An hourly meter that shows a small but steady flow all night long – while most people are asleep – may be an indication of a faulty valve or punctured pipe somewhere in the system.

A new generation of companies using internet connections and radio transmitters are making it possible for consumers to spot leaks before they become a major problem. Readings on an hourly or quarter-hourly basis, as opposed to monthly, bimonthly, or even quarterly measurements traditionally employed by utilities.

Water reuse

Direct water reuse – the process of treating municipal wastewater in order to remove contaminants so that water can be safely reused for a variety of purposes – has emerged as a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable alternative for communities seeking to address mounting supply and demand imbalances. The water reuse market is expected to have considerable growth over the next four years. Reports anticipate growth in recycled water production and use across all market sectors, including commercial, residential, municipal, agricultural, and industrial to the tune of a compounding annual growth rate of 22 percent.

The concept of treating wastewater streams for immediate re-entry into the water cycle is gaining traction, unlocking the “hidden source” of portable supply for many areas.

Filtration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet (UV) purification are all technologies that have applications in this growth, though it is worth noting that UV technology has been used in all recent large-scale projects. These initiatives are capturing the inherent advantage of UV treatment, which helps to purify water by replacing the use of chlorine – a known poison that is believed to have negative side effects on human health.

As the situation unfolds, education and business will unite to provide the next generation of solutions for distributing, conserving, and replenishing supply. Well-positioned players can capitalize on the need for innovative technology and investors who understand the issues and scope of the crisis may gain from early entry into the marketplace.

Image credit: Pixabay

Patrick McVeigh, President and Chief Investment Officer of Reynders, McVeigh Capital Management LLC., has more than 30 years of experience in socially responsible investing (SRI). He was an owner and key employee of one of the first SRI wealth management firms, and he served on the board of the Social Investment Forum. At SIF, he pioneered research on SRI, and he has authored articles on finance, ethics and ecology, and contributed to The Social Investment Almanac (New York: Henry Holt, 1992) and Working Capital: The Power of Labor’s Pensions (Cornell University Press, 2001).

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed do not constitute investment advice, are subject to change, and represent the current, good-faith views of the authors at the time of publication. Accuracy of information obtained from sources is not guaranteed

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