Scientists say large parts of the world will face a water crisis sometime in this century, as supplies of fresh water dwindle. Conservation efforts and new technologies have created opportunities for some businesses.
A report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization says two billion people in 48 countries will face a water shortage by the middle of this century. That is a best-case scenario. The international agency says that unless pollution is reduced and water sources protected, as many as 7 billion people could lack the water they need for drinking and sanitation.
Conservation experts say too much clean drinking water is going down the drain.
That's a waste, says James Krug of Falcon Waterfree Technologies, a Los Angeles company that says it is helping the environment while making a profit.
Falcon manufactures water-free urinals. The system uses a filter that allows liquids to pass through, a system that Mr. Krug says is odor free and hygienic.
He says each unit saves 150,000 liters of water per year. The product can be found on Japan's bullet trains, in the new Pudong airport in Shanghai, and at other locations in the United States, Europe and Asia.
"We are in Heathrow Airport, we are now in the Taj Mahal," explained James Krug. "We're in Changi airport in Singapore, Daimler-Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, Intel, McDonald's. Major corporations are really starting to care about the environment and implement strong environmental policies."
He says users of the product are also saving money in water costs.
Environmental scientist Michael Hoffman of the California Institute of Technology is an advisor to Falcon. He says the American Southwest has experienced drought for the past five years, and the impact is being felt in the most populous U.S. state, California. Many conservation-promoting products are made in the state.
"Clearly, we're population-wise approaching our limits of water supply, especially with a cutback on the allotment that we can take from the Colorado River and the various agreements that have been in place over the years," he said. "We're being cut back pretty severely on how much water we take, and we have to find other sources of water to keep up with population demand."
He adds that conservation is just as important as finding new water sources.
Water-saving devices include efficient washing machines and low-flow showerheads and faucets. They also include low-flow rinse units that some restaurants are using for food cleaning and preparation.
Jane Raftis oversees conservation programs for a local utility, Pasadena Water and Power. The company offers rebates and incentives for water-saving devices, including low-flow toilets. It also encourages the use of outdoor sprinkler controllers that cut back on water use in the rainy season.
"Probably the big thing that we're looking at is outdoor landscaping, weather-based controllers, irrigation calculators to help people determine how much watering they need to do, and education, landscape classes," said Jane Raftis.
James Krug of Falcon Waterfree Technologies says his company's sales are expanding in East Asia, where public rest rooms are being modernized to them more hygienic, while water-saving devices are promoting conservation and saving users money. He adds that Northern Europeans, already conservation leaders, are also showing interest in such environmentally friendly plumbing products.