Watering a New Economic Idea in NY

Pushing green power and biotech as the next big economic thing is like counting lost manufacturing jobs these days: Everybody's doing it. Now a growing number of visionaries are touting the idea that there's money to be made and jobs to be generated by investing in freshwater restoration and conservation.

The latest is George Makarewicz, a science professor at State Univeristy of New York Brockport. "Adequate clean water is likely to be the most important factor in future economic development and settlement patterns in the United States," Mr. Makarewicz wrote earlier this week in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "Understanding the threats to the chemical and biological conditions of this water is essential."

Makarewicz proposes transforming a section of a high-speed ferry terminal in Rochester into the Lake Ontario Natural Resources Center, a modern science lab focused on the advancement of water science and technology.

"Founded 77 years ago, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (in Massachusetts), now with a staff of more than 600 scientists and technical staff, has a major impact on the local economy and enjoys an international reputation," the professor wrote. "The Port of Rochester and high-speed ferry terminal also offer opportunities to develop new ventures with an environmental perspective."

Indeed, the search for solutions to outdated water management practices and technology is becoming big business in the United States and abroad. The market for water engineering services alone jumped 25 percent in 1999. And a growing number of entrepreneurs see major market growth for new services and products that increase access to clean fresh water. Worldwide, annual industry revenues are estimated at $300 billion, according to a 2003 report prepared by the Battelle Memorial Institute.

Even arid Arizona has embraced the goal of becoming the "water management capitol of the world." But innovative thinkers in Grand Rapids and Detroit, MI, Cleveland, OH, and now New York are beginning to recognize that a global market for new knowledge and expertise that improves water resource management clearly exists. The question is whether it's something the region will shape a strategy to pursue, as many Midwest states have done for alternative energy and biotech.