Access to clean water will remain an increasing challenge globally for the foreseeable future – not only due to shortages caused by drought and overuse, but also to crumbling infrastructure in developed and undeveloped worlds.

Moreover, explosive global population growth will tax these rotting systems even further. In 1900, the world’s population was just 1.5 billion. Today, it stands at 7.4 billion, and growing by 75 million each year, according to the United Nations. During this period, there has been virtually no modernization of water systems.

Functional hardware delivering clean water increasingly will be seen as both a human right and an economic-development tool. Sales of filters and other home remedies to contamination will become a growth area for investors and entrepreneurs.

Companies such as the publicly traded CH2M offer smart water meters that can identify leaks in a home’s plumbing or breaks in water mains and alert users or maintenance workers.  CH2M and research labs, including one at Ontario’s McMaster University, are developing sensors that can detect deviations from normal water chemistry and send a digital alarm. While some are as large as 12 inches long and cost as much as $2,000, others will be the size of a popcorn kernel and cost as little as $10 — affordable for any homeowner.

IBM and Microsoft are among the software giants entering the field. The companies market software packages that aggregate data from smart meters so utility companies can spot more widespread leaks and contamination before they become crises. IBM’s “WaterWatchers” smartphone app lets individuals message utility managers about water system malfunctions they see on the street.

Private water companies that can demonstrate a track record of meeting local needs will thrive as municipalities continue to be hard-pressed to fund their water system repairs from debt or tax dollars.

The need for clean water, like clean food, remains a powerful mega trend. As Celente wrote almost 30 years ago:

“With shortages and concern about safety, water will be a very good business in the 1990s. We recommend investing in water sources, distribution, purification – just about anything that has to do with water. Sales of bottled water and purification devices grew 68 percent over the past five years, and we expect them to continue growing at this rate over the next five years. Remember how in “The Graduate” the guy took Dustin Hoffman aside and told him what the big opportunity was? “Plastics,” he said. Well, that was in the 1960s. Now it’s water.” (Trend Tracking, 1990, p. 257.)

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