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The Search For Clean Water Has Become A Multibillion-Dollar Business


By John Kreiser
CBS News
January 1, 2009


Who says oil and water don't mix? Not T. Boone Pickens. As CBS News
correspondent Anthony Mason reports, Pickens, a Texas billionaire who made
his fortune in black gold, is now investing in a blue liquid.

Pickens' new company, Mesa Water, has been buying up ground water rights
in Roberts County, Texas — 200,000 acres in all. He says that over a
30-year period, he expects to make more than $1 billion on his investment
of $75 million.

Pickens isn’t the only investor with a big thirst for water: GE has bought
four water companies. Water is now a $400 billion global industry — the
third-largest behind oil and electricity. The difference: There are
alternatives to those two energy sources.

Not so with water.

"There is really no substitute for water," says Roberto Lenton, a
hydrologist with the Earth Institute at Columbia University. "There's
nothing else that will play that role."

Water itself isn't scarce. But clean water is. For investors, the lack of
usable water around the world is making it almost as valuable as oil.

"The water sector is going to grow two to three times the global economy
over the next 20 years," says Rod Parsley, who runs the $50 million Water
Fund, which invests solely in water-related businesses. "By buying the
companies that source, treat, distribute and monitor our water supply,
you're pretty likely to have a strong investment over the next decade or so."

That's because cities will need new technologies to help replace their
deteriorating water systems. New York, for example, is spending $6 billion
to build 60 miles of water tunnels. It's one of the largest water
infrastructure projects in U.S. history. It will carry about 1.5 billion
gallons a day.

The U.S. population has increased about 50 percent since 1965. But water
usage is up 300 percent. Experts say you can expect your water rates to go up.

"I know what people say — water's a lot like air. Do you charge for air?
'Course not; you shouldn't charge for water," says Pickens. "Well, OK,
watch what happens. You won't have any water."

With our unquenchable thirst, more and more investors are seeing water as
a liquid asset.

 

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