The availability of clean water has always been an issue in many parts of the world--as of 2005, 1.1 billion people did not have access to clean drinking water. However, water shortages are no longer limited to developing countries, striking the American West frequently as a result of rapid population growth in this water-poor region and manmade global warming. Water rights are now a hot-button political issue in states such as Colorado In the United States, 36 states will face water shortages just five years from now. Moreover, Belgium now comes in last in the world water quality rankings in the latest UN World Water Development Report. Within 25 years, the world will not have enough fresh water to meet nutritional needs, as each calorie of food requires roughly a liter to water to grow. At present growth rates, the world will add 2.5 billion people over the next 25 years, each of whom requires 2,000 to 3,000 liters worth of water every day.
While large-scale, high-yield agriculture is the norm in many parts of the developed world, much of the world's agricultural land is farmed by small farmers and has very low-yields. Over the next 25 years, yields on this land could increase enough through better water and land management to meet 75% of the increase in nutritional demand. In addition to the need for improved agricultural technologies and the expansion of agribusiness, water storage will play a key role in dealing with the crisis. In the American West, for instance, the earlier and more rapid melting of the mountains' snowpack in recent years has resulted in a great deal of freshwater flowing out to the ocean because of a lack of dams. Moreover, as only a very small percentage of the water on the Earth's surface is freshwater, technologies such as waste water reclamation, water usage monitoring, and desalinization could all be key to meeting the world's water needs in the next few decades.
Desalinization is generally considered to be an unavoidable necessity in the future for dry coastal areas. There are already plants operational in the Middle East, Spain, China, North Africa, Florida and the American West. However, there have been difficulties and delays  in building these plants, and they are extremely energy and capital-intensive projects.
Monsanto is the largest producer of genetically modified seeds in the world, and is developing drought-resistant crops such as corn in partnership with BASF SE (BASFY) that could be in high demand in areas stricken by water shortages. However, Monsanto, through its dominance in corn seed, is also exposed to the ethanol industry. Corn is an extremely thirsty crop, and one that is unlikely to do well in a world plagued with water shortages; furthermore, converting corn into ethanol also requires a great deal of water.
Dupont's Pioneer Hi-Bred arm is the second-largest producer of genetically modified seeds in the world after Monsanto. It is also pursuing drought-resistant corn. Corn is a key research area for these companies because it is a very thirsty crop and because it is a key raw material for many processed foods.
Syngenta is another agribusiness multinational that has lines of drought-tolerant and resistant crops in development.
Consolidated Water runs a number of desalination plants in the Caribbean and has been an active acquirer of other desalination companies. Moreover, it uses a technology more efficient than many of its competitors; however, the entrance of large, deep-pocketed players, from Veolia Environment to General Electric Company (GE), could hurt it, as it is still a relatively small company.
Veolia Environment has four divisions, of which Veolia Water is the largest water company in the world. Veolia is active in all aspects of the water business, including desalination. As efficiency efforts are likely to require a substantial upgrade to the world's water infrastructure, Veolia could benefit substantially from its broad exposure to the water industry.
While GE also has a substantial water business, its enormity means that water comprises only 2% of GE's revenues, so it is unlikely to be heavily affected by the water crisis.
Nalco Holding Company sells custom water treatment systems to manufacturing companies. Nalco's products conserve water use and extend the life of industrial equipment. The company has the largest market share in the water-related services and chemicals market (by sales) with 17% of an $18.6 billion market. With experience in most industrial and manufacturing industries, Nalco stands to benefit from a global trend toward water conservation across industries.