Where's WARPA? Why water needs more advanced research

The news out this past month was stark: 4 billion people regularly face water shortages worldwide. More than half of humanity.

But seen another way, that's 4 billion potential individual consumers ready for innovations that can help provide safe, reliable and affordable supplies of water. Not to mention the millions of businesses which also depend on water to survive and grow. In other words, a huge global market ripe for U.S. innovation.

So as we near World Water Day, and the White House readies to host a water summit in Washington, D.C. that is aimed at creating a "moon shoot" for water, it's time to consider the creation of a high-level water technology research hub similar to successful U.S. efforts in defense and energy.

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is credited for developing some of the 20th centuries most ubiquitous technologies - the Internet, GPS and virtual reality. Similarly, ARPA-e ("e" is for energy) was created in 2009 to do that same thing for clean energy (which by the way, gets 50 times the investment as water R&D). ARPA-e has given out $1.3 billion in grants so far, which allowed funded companies to leverage investment of the same amount from the private sector.

So why not a WARPA or ARPA-w for water? The Obama administration took a step in the right direction in its most recent budget by setting aside $267 million for increasing efficient use of water, and for innovating ways to bring down the cost of and energy consumption of desalination, reuse and other sources of new water supply. But the federal government should take it a step further.

Water oversight and research falls under an array of government agencies - the U.S. Geological Survey, the Dept of the Interior, EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An ARPA-w would break down silos and allow for a holistic approach to water innovation that is multi-disciplinary.

It's time to give water the focused attention and resources it deserves. Water is at the top of the World Economic Forum list of global risks, yet risk has not translated into the level of commitment - on the part of government and the private sector - needed to address the problem.

Water scarcity is not going away. Breakthroughs in all technologies will be needed to ensure our world does not go thirsty; and at all levels - national, city, business and home. At the same time, more funding to deploy existing technologies is also critical. Water should no longer be the understudy to energy. It needs a spotlight. It needs a WARPA.

Rose is co-founder and CEO of Apana (www.apana.com), a technology and data analytics company that helps businesses manage and save water.