Scarce resources for water worldwide in an era of rising temperatures, prolonged droughts and extreme weather.
Exploding populations that demand water far exceeding dwindling supply.
Water-delivery systems around the globe rotting away, having outlived their infrastructures by decades.
And, drying up and rotting away just as fast, public funding to ensure safe, effective delivery of clean water.
This is not a new trend.
Global forecaster Gerald Celente forecast it more than 20 years ago in his book, Trends 2000: Production and delivery of clean water were taken for granted.
The research was prophetic. Expanding populations, erratic weather patterns, tightening municipal budgets and chronic inattention to crumbling infrastructures made for a coming perfect storm.
That perfect storm is here.
CRISIS NOW THE NORM
Today, the production and delivery of clean, safe water is not only “among the most powerful and enduring global trends affecting populations worldwide,” as Celente forecast years ago. “It is at a crisis stage in some countries.”
For example, the Asia-Pacific region is fast becoming the world’s hotspot for future water shortages. Asia Development Bank data conclude almost 3.5 billion people will live in water-scarce areas by 2050. Afghanistan, China, India, Pakistan and Singapore will be hardest hit.
Most of the region’s water — up to 90 percent in some countries —goes to irrigation to feed a relentlessly growing population. Little is left for drinking and sanitation.
Also, in most Asia-Pacific countries, less than 15 percent of wastewater is treated. Water shortages and untreated waste create the prospect of an enormous public-health disaster.
In addition, the region must double food production if population expands as predicted — and do so with shrinking water supplies.
To be water-secure, every country in the region will need new, more efficient methods of irrigation, agriculture and urban water use. New water sources, such as desalination of seawater, also will be crucial.
Australia, New Zealand and Japan are making rapid progress in water management. But developing countries lack the money, political will and popular culture to get on trend.
That’s why 80 percent of diseases in developing countries are rooted in unsafe water consumption. Worldwide, one in every nine people have no access to safe water, the United Nations estimates. Clean water is scarce for a third of the world’s population.
More alarming, these statistics are expected to double by 2025.
THE INFRASTRUCTURE NIGHTMARE
In developed, industrialized nations, periodic droughts and related water-shortage causes tend to be more short-lived. The larger concern: Water systems are literally falling apart.
As they’re used, they rot away. Lead and other contaminants seep into public water being consumed.
In some US cities, it’s a crisis. Flint, Michigan, is the highest-profile example of how unsuspecting residents were poisoned by drinking public water. The culprit: Lead peeling off the city’s rotting, old water pipes, into water supplies.
But many municipalities nationwide face Flint-like catastrophes.
A Reuters report in December 2016 found almost 3,000 US public-water systems had lead contamination worse than Flint’s.
The sources of these contaminants abound.
In more than 750 US cities, sewer systems mingle storm runoff and domestic sewage. A heavy rain can overflow these systems. That sends the mixture into lakes and streams that supply public water. Perchlorate — an ingredient in rocket fuel, fireworks and fertilizers, among other toxins — is a persistent guest in public water. It can disrupt human hormones.
Prescription drugs trashed or excreted by humans and farm animals make their way into drinking-water sources. So do endocrine disruptors, chemicals found in fertilizers and loose in nature. They can play havoc with humans’ hormone systems.
Because these systems have been neglected for generations, there are no or scant technologies in place to proactively detect and eliminate contaminants.
How did it get to this stage?
Aging water systems are nothing new. They’re too costly to repair in the eyes of government leaders. They instinctively default to cheaper Band-Aid remedies.
It is, in fact, a familiar story. Municipal governments don’t have the money to repair or replace water systems beyond their expected lifespans. They act only when forced.
IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
And that brings us to “Water Crisis, 2017 Version.”
It’s a crisis whose depth and reach now can’t be ignored. It becomes even more amplified in 2017.
Why did it take catastrophes worldwide to bring water to the fore?
Most experts cite the same problem: out of sight, out of mind. People tend to assume their public-water supply is safe. Aside from paying water bills or a broken pipe temporarily drying up taps, most people think about water as often as they think about air they breathe.
Politics, shrinking public budgets and exploding populations in some countries also are to blame.
Consider that latter point. In 1900, the world’s population was 1.5 billion. Today, it’s 7.4 billion and growing 75 million each year, according to the United Nations. During this period, there has been virtually no modernization of water systems.
In many parts of the world, the focus of the crisis is on combating drought conditions.
In the US and a growing number of other countries, privatization of water systems is increasing — and sharply.
In many countries, most notably in the Western Hemisphere, the focus is on water education. That includes how to purify, conserve and replenish water supplies.
For profit-hungry utility companies, of course, it’s about new methodologies to account for every drop used and charging accordingly. They do that while producing and delivering clean water as cost-effectively as possible.
What ties all these disparate interests together? Technology.
Think about it.
Utility companies want better meters, more precise metrics to track usage. Where do they turn? Tech companies.
Consumers want affordable in-home purification systems. They want their own devices to track usage and hold public utilities accountable. Cheap, easy-to-manage technology is the answer for that need.
Public-water-system managers see the value in recycling wastewater into drinkable water. Transforming toilet water to tap water is a growing tech sector.
New technology plays a critical role in devising methods for water conservation and purification. That includes technology to detect early leaks or variations in water quality in larger systems.
As Celente wrote in Trends 2000: “Any water-supply-related business represents a sound investment for the foreseeable future — water sources, purification systems and supplies, distribution and marketing.”
Today, this is truer than ever.
HOW TO PAY FOR IT
There are many reasons Celente forecast a boon in clean-water technology investment and progress in 2017.
Among them: The undeniable and unavoidable fact that the variety of water crises he identified are surfacing worldwide with greater frequency.
They must be addressed now. There is no choice.
Another factor, especially in the US, is the momentum the economy is building as 2017 unfolds. Uncertainties, of course, abound. But markets’ and investment zeal are up as the Donald Trump administration takes shape.
Essentially, there are three reasons for the Trum
p rally: Corporate tax breaks, business deregulation and infrastructure stimulus. In his victory speech, Trump declared, “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none,” while promising to “put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it” and spend “$1 trillion over a 10-year period.”
Obviously, there are policy questions and concerns. But a business mindset taking over the White House bodes well for clean-water initiatives that rely on private-investment-funded technology to build and manage public water systems.
Love him. Hate him. But Trump will push hard for private-sector investment in rebuilding America’s crumbling bridges, highways, electrical grids and water systems.
And he’s not reinventing the wheel as his initiatives relate to water.
THE PRIVATIZATION REMEDY
For several years, municipalities across the country have turned to the private sector for help. They’re exploring various ways to fund water-system overhauls. More and more states offer grants or subsidize low-interest loans to localities to bring systems up to snuff.
Today, about 100 million Americans receive water from privately owned water systems. This number will grow. The majority of US water systems have a significant amount of parts more than a century old.
Heard about water-main breaks in your community in recent years? That’s why. Those pipes are older than most people alive today.
These old systems, by some estimates, leak up to 18 percent of the water traveling through them. That’s before they reach homes and businesses. The waste is vast.
The more breakdowns occur, the greater the need for public/private partnerships.
The US Environmental Protection Agency recently evaluated water safety. It recorded over 16,000 “significant violations” of national drinking-water safety standards in a recent report. Bacteria and synthetic chemicals found in drinking water were among the most common violations.
There is every reason to believe these incidents will increase. They will sharply outpace, for now, replacement or modernization of public-water plants.
But as more high-profile cases surface, the momentum to address crises builds. As such, multi-layered water problems worldwide create multi-layered investment opportunities.
Trump’s political stewardship will, by all indications, promote private-sector investment in public-water production and delivery. That means more business-community interest in investing in these partnerships. Public-private partnerships are already popular in poor countries. That’s when municipalities and private investors invest in helping build or modernize water infrastructure. That model is fast gaining steam in the US and other developed countries.
And it will continue to grow, even though privatization is far from perfect.
Many cities have had difficulty holding private companies accountable when failing to live up to their promises. And water rates have surged in many areas.
Bayonne, New Jersey, a city of 65,000 in the shadow of lower Manhattan, gets its water from a privately owned company. That followed a multi-year privately funded project to overhaul the city’s decaying water system.
Water rates in Bayonne, The New York Times reported, are up 28 percent.
There are numerous similar examples. But privatization is increasingly the go-to solution.
CONSERVATION, CONSERVATION, CONSERVATION
Go beyond privatization. Technology that supports water-reuse capabilities, especially for agriculture, will sharply increase in demand. In drought-stricken states, such as Arizona, California and Texas, demand is already high.
Moreover, water-reuse technology will be especially needed in countries like India and China. That’s where vast farmlands are underutilized due to chronic water shortages.
Desalinating sea water, an energy-intensive operation, is becoming more feasible. That’s because solar-powered facilities are replacing diesel-fired plants. Saudi Arabia is leading development of this technology.
The drought-ravaged Caribbean islands of Barbados and Curacao receive water from Amazone, a private company. It takes the fluid from clean rivers in the water-rich South American nation of Suriname, hundreds of miles away.
Amazone delivers the water in a giant sack towed by ship across the ocean.
The sack, made of flexible PVC, holds enough water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. The sack floats because fresh water is lighter than seawater.
Scientists are even genetically engineering plants that are drought-hardy or just have shorter stems. That means less water is needed to grow to maturity and bear a harvest.
Israel’s “reverse osmosis” water-purification process represents more new technology. The process pushes dirty water through membranes. Contaminants stay on one side. Clean water goes to the other.
The convergence of these water issues worldwide is forcing governments, industries, researchers and technologists to focus on new approaches to basic water stewardship.
It’s unavoidable: The new approaches will increasingly mean private-public partnerships to develop solutions. TJ