Water scarcity presents opportunity for Minnesota companies

Target Field water
Grounds crew member Nick Balistrieri waters the infield at Target Field in Minneapolis on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Minneapolis-based Pentair designed a stormwater collection system for Target Field that allows the Twins to use stormwater to irrigate the field and clean the stands. Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News 2011.

We can't give the rest of the world our 10,000 lakes, but Minnesota-made solutions to the problem of water scarcity are already making an impact around the globe. Business and state economic development leaders say it's just the beginning. 

They'll gather Tuesday at the state's first-ever water technology summit focused on "positioning the state of Minnesota's water business sector for global competition," said Steve Riedel, an international trade representative with the state's trade office at the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Riedel said Minnesota is already a leader in things like filters and membranes for drinking and wastewater treatment systems. The state ranks 10th nationally in water technology exports, he said.

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How did we get there?

"Sometimes people point to the fact that we have 10,000 lakes here and that we’re known as a state that has a lot of water resources and we’ve learned how to take good care of it," he said. "But that’s not the only aspect to it because amazingly our state is also very good at managing water resources that we don’t even have here. For example, we’re a long way from the ocean but we make a lot of filters that can remove salt from seawater."

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Riedel said many of the companies in the water technology business have been in Minnesota for a long time. Ecolab, 3M, GE, Pentair and Aeration Industries are all either based here or have operations in the state.

The growth of those companies and others will depend in part on how well they're able to tap into the global demand for solutions to water scarcity.

"It isn't just normal economic trends for there being greater demand for a given widget or gadget," Riedel said. "A lot of it's driven by larger trends that are affecting the whole planet. Global warming leads to changes in the climate and in some cases it leads to greater water scarcity, in some case it leads to too much water."

California's drought, he said, is an example of a business opportunity for companies that know how to conserve water, harvest water or reuse water. And as demonstrated in our Beneath the Surface series, even the land of 10,000 lakes is being forced to look seriously at conservation in some areas like the northeast metro and southeastern Minnesota because of growth and contamination.

According to the United Nations, 1.8 billion people will face water scarcity and two-thirds of the world's population could be living in water stressed conditions by 2025.

"The demand for water conservation technologies and techniques is really strong and is only going to get stronger,” Riedel said.

The DEED conference is being held at Ecolab's Eagan facility.