Water Trends: Looking into Water’s Crystal Ball
Having been involved in the business of water for going on 30 years now, it is clear to me that four significant water-related trends are now evolving here in the US and in many other industrialized parts of the world. Some of these trends you may already be aware of or suspect they are developing; others you may not.
The first one is that water is no longer dependent on rainfall or snow caps. I’m sure you want me to clarify that. In 2016, California, which desperately needs water and has been in a drought for four years, may be in for very significant rainfall events if the “El Nino” predictions hold true.
While this will be a great relief for all businesses and residents in the state, it hopefully does not mean consumers and industry will go back to their old ways of using water as if it was plentiful, believing it will always be there and they can take as much as they need. That reflects a 1960s mentality, which should have faded away along with Herman’s Hermits, The Kinks, Tom Jones and the rest of the 1960s music icons. Californians and the rest of the nation now know that no matter whether water is plentiful or in short supply, using water responsibly and efficiently must be an ongoing practice.
Second, expect to see water become the fourth “factor” in business. Let’s say you are considering starting a new manufacturing business. Traditionally the “factors” you will be most concerned about are that you have the capital to finance your startup; have the people in place to work with you and that share your passion; and that you can obtain the necessary parts, raw materials and components to build your new gizmo.
Now we must also consider water, as in the following example. Today, “specialty beers” are a fast growing startup business in the US. If your startup will introduce a new beer to the consumer, the fact that it can take 1,500 gallons of water to make one barrel of beer will likely steer your venture away from California and the Southwest to a more water-rich part of the country, such as the northern Midwest.*
Third, an entire new industry is evolving now, one that will grow considerably in the future — the reusable water industry. As we know, there are different types of water: potable (drinking) water, gray water, salt water, rainwater, recycled water and the list goes on. In order to use water more efficiently, industry and consumers will be able to select exactly the type of water most suited to their application from one of these reusable water utilities.
For instance, say you operate an outdoor garden center. For the most part, your plants will do just as well if they are irrigated using gray water or recycled water as they would potable water — possibly even better. But when your outdoor garden center purchases non-potable water, more drinking water remains available for people, which is what water efficiency is all about.
Finally, the trend that many might like to keep under wraps but must now be discussed is the pricing of water. Historically, there simply was no real correlation between the cost to gather, store, treat and deliver water and the price Americans paid for water. For decades, water as a resource has been underpriced, very often due to early local ordinances which stated that accessibility to water is a right.
In one study published several years ago, for instance, it was found that the average household in Washington DC consumes about 127,400 gallons of water annually and for that pays about $350 or about $30 per month. In Guatemala City, Guatemala, and many other parts of the world, that amount of water would cost close to $2,000 or $167 per month, which better reflects it true costs.
What historically has likely happened is that American communities have viewed water as a community necessity, just like hiring police or firefighters and installing streetlights, so the cost of water was kept artificially low. Starting in the 1970s, the Federal government provided generous grants to communities to help them clean up their water plants and improve distribution systems, which also helped subsidize water costs. Those grants are over and, as we know, getting money for infrastructure investment from today’s Congress is like pulling teeth. So that means we are going to see — if we have not already — significant jumps in the cost for water for the foreseeable future.
A frequent speaker and author on water conservation issues, Klaus Reichardt is founder and CEO of Waterless Co. in Vista, California, makers of waterless urinals and other restroom products. He founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water conservation in mind. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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