Water availability is just one factor that influences where businesses locate, said Jason Morrison of the Pacific Institute, author of a report on likely economic fallout from a drier climate. Still, he acknowledged, the outlook is disconcerting.
"It's pretty certain that water-related risk for business will increase over the long haul in more places," he said.
Al Henes, who runs a brewery and pub in Flagstaff, Ariz., has waterless urinals and reuses water in his beer-making operation, but worries about the future as housing developments and golf courses keep springing up. Even so, he said, he's not ready to forsake his beloved canyon country's stunning scenery and outdoorsy lifestyle.
"You guys get a little colder up there," Henes said dryly. Recalling childhood winter visits with his grandmother in Michigan, he added: "Some of my words would just freeze in my mouth and fall on the ground and shatter."
Milwaukee reflects the grandeur of the lake region's past as well as its decline and the quest to rebuild. A downtown statue of "The Fonz" evokes wistful memories of "Happy Days" prosperity, when more than half of the adult workforce had factory jobs with manufacturers like Allis-Chalmers, now defunct. Some warehouses and storefronts still sit empty, and the remnants of beer giants Schlitz, Pabst and Blatz have been turned to other uses.
Though brewing is a shadow of its former self here, local leaders are newly mindful that the industry, which used huge volumes of water, attracted other businesses that still remain vibrant. Worldwide, water technology— pumps, valves and more— generates $500 billion a year and is growing rapidly, said John Austin, director of the Brookings Institution's Great Lakes Economic Initiative.
The Milwaukee-based Water Council, a research and networking organization, now has more than 100 members, including the brewer MillerCoors. The technology center is expected to host a half-dozen startups at a time, with frequent turnover as companies grow and move to bigger locations.