Americans tend to associate water insecurity with less developed countries, but it’s become a troubling reality for a growing number of people and businesses here in the U.S., too.
The ongoing drought in California, for example, has now entered its fifth year and has already cost the state’s agribusinesses approximately $1.5 billion this year and impacted food prices across the country. Meanwhile, lead contaminated water from aging pipes in Flint, Michigan forced thousands of residents to stop drinking local tap water in 2015, becoming one of the state’s largest man-made disasters in history.
Over the next 10 years, 40 out of 50 states are expected to experience water shortages of their own, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Water supply issues at home and abroad mean big problems for the economy. Thankfully, American startups are leading a new wave of innovation in the water tech sector to find solutions. Water scarcity issues in California’s Silicon Valley—the epicenter of the technology industry—are also likely putting a renewed focus on water startups and showing how lucrative the $600 billion sector can be.
“There are a couple of drivers for high levels of [American] activity in the water space,” Abhirabh Basu, a water research associate at Lux Research Inc., said. “Issues like water scarcity are becoming more and more prevalent everywhere—not just in dry regions. It’s an issue affecting most of the world and we see more companies focusing on that through technology.”
Mark Peterman, CEO of award-winning water startup OndaVia, is one of several California-based entrepreneurs who have launched clean water startups in the last 10 years. He started his businessin 2009 to locate harmful pollutants in drinking water. Peterman has taken note of the increasing number ofclean water startups popping up across the country.
“It is an interesting and curious trend, with a few likely factors,” he said. “The boom in hydraulic fracturing created an opportunity for innovative water treatment technologies, which was then followed by droughts that highlight the need for water conservation.”
While water and water-related technology are slated to grow in importance over the coming years, here are five American startups already working to fix the crisis:
OndaVia: The California startup’s rapid water sensor kit weighs approximately five pounds and can detect harmful pollutants in water in less than five minutes.
Each kit contains advanced testing cartridges that help clients avoid expensive, complex off-site laboratory tests that can take days to complete.
Anfiro: This Cambridge, Massachusetts company has developed water filtration membrane technology that reduces the cost of seawater desalination—a process that makes saltwater potable by purifying it and removing the salt.
The membranes rely on less electricity than conventional products on the market and, as a result, emits less greenhouse gas and is cheaper to operate.
OptiEnz Sensors: This Colorado startup creates sensors that continuously monitor the concentration of organic chemicals in water, eschewing traditional laboratory sampling methods that often rely on testing samples at random intervals.
Its obvious benefits include measuring contaminates in water used for oil and gas extraction, and monitoring fermentation processes used for food and alcoholic beverages.
Fathom: Arizona-based Fathom is one of the largest companies providing cloud-based software services for power and water utilities. Fathom’s software helps clients — including several cities — manage their water systems in real time using data from smart grid systems.
This means improved utilities to manage operations and find faulty pipes sooner while giving residents the ability to track real-time water usage and billing information.
Water Planet: Although it’s important to treat and provide drinking water, it’s just as crucial to manage industrial and municipal wastewater, which often finds its way into local river basins and lakes. Los Angeles-based Water Planet has developed a purification system that allows companies and cities to manage wastewater with on-the-fly computer control.
Aside from treating wastewater for safe discharge, it also can create purified water that can be used for power generation and high-tech manufacturing.