The old quote, “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” from the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” still rings true today. While water covers 70 percent of the planet’s surface, according to National Geographic, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh, the rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our water is easily accessible. This means that only a fraction of a percent of the world’s water supply is available for sustaining the billions of people living on the planet.
We at Red Javelin have been doing quite a bit of work in water technologies. Water technologies fit is a few different categories – filtering, replacement, and reclamation. Every day we are amazed at the complexity of solving the world’s water problems. Water is a complex web of technology innovation, geopolitical, environmental and economic interdependencies. It is hard for a start-up to navigate all of these areas, particularly government agencies as it pertains to infrastructure issues – start-ups move fast, governments, even in crisis, just don’t.
We have been surprised that more water technologies are not coming out of Silicon Valley. You would expect with the severe drought in their back yard that we would see a flurry of start-ups trying to address these issues. That has not been the case. This recent article in the NY Times suggests that the lack of emerging start-ups is a combination of no new ideas, a market that isn’t stable, and even a mismatch between the available skill sets.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any new cool technologies. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has become a hot bed for water technology companies. According to this article in CCN Money, “former employees of the state's big, established water companies such as GE (GE), Dow (DOW) and 3M (MMM) are starting their own water firms. The university is focusing academic research around the subject and now runs hundreds of water-related programs.”
Droughts Impact Everyone
If you are currently living in a drought stricken area, you have been experiencing first- hand the impact of a water shortage. For the rest of us, we occasionally hear about it in the news but it doesn’t necessarily impact our daily lives. That is about to change. Water shortages are real and with climate changes are going to be more widespread and frequent. Here are just a few ways droughts may impact you in your everyday life.
With more than 200 rivers and 300 groundwater basins and aquifers being shared by two or more countries, there is increasing tension and disagreements over ownership. Shortages could threaten food production and energy supply and put additional stress on governments struggling with poverty and social issues. Although there haven’t been any conflicts over water in recent history, it is expected that by 2020 that there will be. In fact, our government has been preparing for that eventuality for years. This is eye opening in that water could be the new oil – in terms of a resource that countries fight over. Worldwater.org has a “Water Conflict Chronology Map” that lists many significant conflicts that occurred over water or where water resources were the target of an attack throughout recorded history.
Vacation and Leisure Activities
The Caribbean is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in history. Contributing factors include El Nino, a quieter than normal start of the hurricane season, and overall changing weather patterns – these have combined to significantly reduce rainfall the past couple of years. This is leading to strict water rationing and fines being imposed on businesses and individuals who are misusing water. So, how could this impact you? Well, you could come back from the beach, turn on the shower and quickly learn that the water has been shut off for the afternoon. An inconvenience for tourists, but a year-long reality for residents and businesses.
If you live or are visiting the western coast of the United States, you will find that many lakes have dried up to the point where the docks at boating marinas are literally sitting in dried mud. This past winter, there was very little snowfall and ski resorts were hit hard. Towns that depend on outdoor tourism are facing hard economic times.
The impact of droughts on food prices depends on its severity, and in turn its impact on yields, and the acreage and planting decisions of farmers. To date, we have not seen a dramatic price increase of fruits and vegetables grown in California because other factors such as lower transportation costs due to lower gas prices have offset the increases.
However, you may end up paying more for that steak. According to a presentation made by University of California Davis professor Blaine Davis, it takes a massive 106 gallons of water goes to make just one ounce of beef. The grass cattle feed on is dying, so ranchers in California are being forced to buy food for the cattle.
On the surface, it may not seem like there is a deep connection between water and energy but water and energy are interdependent. Our water and energy systems are truly depend on each other as producing energy uses water, and providing freshwater uses energy. California’s ability to produce renewable energy from hydroelectric dams has been significantly hampered over the last few years because of an increasingly severe and widespread drought according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. On average, hydropower has accounted for 20% of California's in-state generation during the first six months of each year from 2004 to 2013. During the first half of 2014, however, hydropower accounted for only 10% of California's total generation. As the drought spreads, expect energy costs to rise.
A Note on Desalination
When I talk about these water issues with friends and colleagues, the topic of desalination inevitably arises. Desalination is not an easy or inexpensive process and has significant impact on the environment. Desalination only takes the salt out of half of the seawater that is brought into a desalinization plant. The other half of the sea water absorbs the salt and it is highly concentrated. When pumped back into the ocean it creates a toxic environment for sea life. In fact, desalination is very expensive and requires quite a bit of fossil fuel creating a huge carbon footprint. Today, desalination is considered a “last resort” technology and many areas of the world are reliant on it. Desalination is an area where technology resources are focused and emerging technology can make a difference.
Just like renewable energy, water technology is still in the infant stage of market maturity. This means the markets are fractured –many players, many competing technologies. For marketers, this means bold and loud marketing is required to help the market move forward.
If you are interested in keeping up with the latest news in water technology and conservation, sign up for Red Javelin’s bi-weekly newspaper – At the Water’s Edge here.