The world's growing shortage of accessible, clean water means opportunity to businesses focused on solving the problem.
That roster includes two publicly traded Minnesota companies whose growing investments in water management are on display at Target Field.
By the end of this summer, a system designed and installed by Pentair Inc. will be recycling rain and irrigation water to maintain the turf and wash down parts of the stadium. The system, the first of its kind for a major sports facility, is expected to save more than 2 million gallons of water a year.
A wireless soil monitoring system supplied by the Toro Co. uses sensors buried under the turf to measure moisture levels so that only the parts of the field that need water get it. "The biggest problem you can run into is overwatering," said Larry Divito, who also used the Toro system in his previous job as groundskeeper for the Washington Nationals. "This helps guide you to where the stress might be."
Of course, the systems at the new ballpark represent only a small piece of the companies' efforts to tap into water conservation for the commercial, residential and agricultural markets.
Toro devotes a disproportionately large chunk of its research and development budget to precision irrigation products such as a line of spray nozzles introduced in 2008 that cut water use by up to 30 percent. Recent acquisitions include Rain Master Irrigation Systems, a California manufacturer of high-tech irrigation controllers, and the purchase of the soil monitoring technology used at Target Field from California-based JLH Labs.
Golf courses, which use more water than ball fields, have been big customers of the monitoring system, said Mike Baron, who heads Toro's California-based water management business. Local users include Hazeltine and Interlachen. "A 10 percent reduction of water use on fairways applied to a $100,000 water bill contributes to a payback period of four years or less," Baron said.
Toro has enhanced the basic technology it acquired from JLH and now is pairing it with its newest irrigation controlling system, called Lynx, that gives course operators a faster, easier way of setting up and managing water use.
Water is integral to Pentair's business. Its pumps, filters and systems that handle all portions of the water cycle -- pulling it from a source, treating it and moving it to and from a destination -- now account for about two-thirds of its $3 billion in revenue. But sales related to water conservation are less than $50 million, a figure that the company will try to double in the next few years. As at Toro, a higher-than-average amount of Pentair's research and development spending is focused on filtration, a key element of water reuse technology.
"Here in the land of 10,000 lakes we're not really that conscious of water scarcity, but in some parts of the country it already is a problem," said Todd Gleason, vice president of strategic planning and corporate communications.
Baron agrees. In California, tiered water rates now charge customers premiums the more water they use. "It's a way of dealing with users that are indifferent to the problem and has become a defensible approach to allocating water," he said. The state also recently enacted a law that sets a goal of cutting per-capita water use by 20 percent by 2020.
David Rose, an analyst who covers the water and renewable energy industries for Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said the U.S. market for products that address water scarcity is more than $121 billion a year. A large part of the demand also is coming from developing economies in China and India as well as countries like Australia that have struggled with water scarcity, Rose said.
Gleason said Pentair's system at Target Field is still being tested but already has drawn inquiries from dozens of other sports venues and commercial builders. There are no other signed deals yet for the system, which Pentair donated to the Twins but otherwise would have cost about $100,000. Gleason declined to identify the interested parties but said one call came from the operators of the Dallas Cowboys' new $1 billion stadium.
"They said, 'We wanted to do something like that -- where were you guys?' But it wasn't until we had the deal with the Twins that we had a platform to begin marketing ourselves," Gleason said.
Michael Cox, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos., said the payoff for Pentair may go beyond replicating the Target Field system for other customers and whatever bump in sales that might mean. "At a minimum, it is a great branding opportunity for Pentair," Cox said.
Gleason said Pentair does see water reuse as a key element in heightening its corporate profile. For years Pentair was a holding company for a wide array ofbusinesses that included some in water, but also included a large power tool company and paper mills. The individual businesses were well-known, but Pentair was not, a circumstance that resulted in it getting scant attention on Wall Street, Gleason said.
It has divested the paper and power tools businesses while focusing much of its acquisition strategy on its water business. A prime example was the 2007 acquisition of Porous Media, a St. Paul company that has expanded Pentair's filtration product offerings. The acquisition also brought technical talent to the water group, which now has about 350 scientists and engineers.
Such focus is helping transform Pentair from a portfolio company to an operating company, Gleason said. He said that's a primary reason the number of analysts that follow Pentair had doubled in the last couple of years. "We now have a clearer identity and message for them, " he said.
The system at Target Field helped the new ballpark become the greenest among the crop of new stadiums in recent years. It achieved the highest number of points of any new major sports facility under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which has become the leading standard for rating eco-friendly buildings.
Gleason said the system at Target Field could have also been equipped to recycle water from laundry and food service operations if Pentair had gotten involved at the stadium earlier in the construction cycle. The Twins already had contracted with several of Pentair's operating companies for a variety of other water-related products, like pumps and filters for food service and fire protection, without realizing they all were part of Pentair, Gleason said. The water reuse system was conceived in July 2009 after the Twins approached Pentair about becoming a stadium sponsor, he said.
Pentair has the technology in place to install more expanded water reuse systems with future customers that could include resorts, convention centers, corporate campuses as well as stadiums, Gleason said. The energy required to run a system to reuse the water on site would be far less than the energy required to continually move wastewater out and bring clean water in, Gleason said.
"We see water reuse as something that's going to become a lot more accepted. It's the way Mother Nature works, anyway," Gleason said. The difference is that the natural process is much slower, he said, while Pentair has the tools to help speed things along.
Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723