Water biz takes off

Only 2 percent of the world’s water is fresh, and with the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century projecting a 50 percent increase in demand in the next 30 years, food and drinking-water shortages, droughts, devastated agriculture, disease, and even armed conflict over water may be on the horizon. We smell profits! And indeed, over the last five years, stocks in the water sector have leapt 113 percent (while the S&P 500 lost 17 percent), with a 24 percent jump just last year. Companies involved in the $400 billion-a-year global water biz — delivery and storage of water, construction and maintenance of infrastructure like wastewater-treatment facilities and desalination plants — have seen their portfolios boom in recent years. Huge corporations like General Electric are investing billions each year in their water holdings. “Water will emerge as the next growth commodity,” says hedge-fund manager John Romero.