So, it’s probably not surprising that L.A. has become a font of activity for companies looking to tap the water market in myriad ways.
“I think Los Angeles is definitely a hub of water innovation because we have to (be),” said Matt Petersen, president and chief executive at downtown-based Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.
“We are dependent on water imported from hundreds of miles away to make the life we enjoy here possible,” he added.
Peterson said aggressive climate laws in California help incentivize the private sector to find innovative solutions for conserving water.
From established companies to ambitious startups, water-focused businesses dot the landscape in a city that funnels in much of its water from outside sources.
There are established players like downtown-based water infrastructure company Cadiz Inc., which was founded in 1983, and Gardena-based treatment company Clean Water Technology Inc.
“I believe Los Angeles has been unique, because the city is very focused on clean tech,” said Sanjay Poojary, founder, president and chief executive of downtown-based Saya Life Inc., which has developed a system to analyze water consumption in individual units for multifamily properties and commercial buildings. “A lot of property owners in L.A. are very committed to doing what is right in terms of conservation and risk management.”
Venice-based Skysource has developed technologies to capture water vapor in the air and turn it into drinking water.
Other startups have developed water leak detection devices, such as Culver City-based Flo Technologies Inc. and Torrance-based Phyn.
A strong civic commitment to water solutions has helped attract companies and drive their growth.
In 2011, the L.A. Department of Water and Power helped found the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, providing funding and favorable terms for a permanent facility at its downtown campus.
And in 2018, the city of Los Angeles pledged to reduce L.A.’s reliance on imported water from 85% to less than 50% by 2035. The roadmap to achieve that goal has included increasing stormwater capture and groundwater cleanup, as well as measures to boost water recycling and water conservation.
One LACI portfolio company, West Los Angeles-based Noria Water Technologies Inc., provides solutions for improving water treatment processes, such as the membrane-based filtration and purification of wastewater, groundwater, seawater and industrial water.
“Covid made people really think about what’s essential and what’s not essential,” said Noria Chief Executive Sivan Cohen, who noted that the state of California has listed any business related to water as an essential service during the pandemic.
“We started seeing all of these accolades being given to water treatment plant operators. (The public started) to really understand how many people, processes, time and effort go into making sure that we have a safe and continuous water supply,” Cohen said.
Noria’s hardware and software provide real-time monitoring for membrane-based water treatment processes.
The company’s services are particularly valuable in a process such as reverse osmosis, which relies on membranes operating inside highly pressurized tubes.
The membranes are not visible to the operators, but Noria’s system makes it possible to “see through” the tubes and quickly identify problems.
The company’s systems are used in plants that process anywhere from a few thousand gallons of water a day to more than 100 million gallons daily, Cohen said.
At Clean Water Technology, wastewater can be turned into a reusable resource.
The company, founded in 1996, provides customized wastewater treatment solutions to a range of industries, including the food and beverage, and automotive and transportation sectors.
A key factor when designing wastewater management solutions is space, according to Michael Yeager, chief executive at Clean Water Technology. That’s because most businesses have limited space for equipment to treat wastewater.
Reducing that space while removing as many contaminants as possible requires additional innovation.
“Society has realized that clean and potable water is no longer an unlimited resource, and we are seeking ways to treat our used water so it can be reused,” Yeager said in an email. “Innovation in water technologies is greatly needed since the major form of primary water treatment has been around from about World War II.”
Push for innovation
Innovative solutions are also happening across commercial and residential water systems.
“Southern California relies on past innovative aqueduct projects to bring in vast amounts of its supply, so new innovations focus more locally to address challenges of management and efficiency,” Nicholas Chow, water engineering project manager at UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, said in an email.
“Due to the tremendous volumes of water conveyed and used within the region, relatively small management and efficiency innovations can mean large savings for utilities and customers,” he added.
Phyn, for example, has created a smart water valve called Phyn Plus, which is combined with artificial intelligence-driven software to analyze water consumption, detect leaks and to automatically shut off water supply in an emergency to prevent damage.
“One of the first things we do when we wake up in the morning, and one of the last things we do when we go to bed is … use water,” said Phyn Chief Executive Ryan Kim.
The company launched its products and services in 2018. Phyn’s water valves can be installed in single-family homes, condos and apartments, as well as restaurants and convenience stores.
The retail price of a smart water valve starts at $699. A less expensive version, the “Smart Water Assistant,” starts at $299 and has the same functionality, minus the automated water shutoff.
Phyn has customers in North America, the Middle East and Europe. The majority of its revenue comes from direct-to-consumer sales of the water valves, but the company is seeing growing demand on the business-to-business side, Kim said.
Founded in 2016, Phyn is backed by Playa Vista-based consumer electronics company Belkin International Inc. and Uponor, a Finnish water system company. “The genesis of our technology started over 10 years ago as a research project inside of Belkin,” said Kim, who served as vice president of engineering at Belkin from 2014-2016.
On the consumer side, education is key to reducing residential water consumption. That’s where Saya Life comes in.
The company has developed a system to analyze water consumption in individual units for multifamily properties and commercial buildings. The system is packaged with water detecting flood sensors, a smart remote shutoff ultrasonic flow meter and a wireless gateway that can send analytic data to a mobile device or a dashboard.
“In an open ledger, the tenant knows exactly how much water he or she has consumed. … They can look at where they have consumed the water,” said Saya Life founder Poojary. “For example, how much for shower versus toilet versus other things. They can also get information on the energy impact of their hot water consumption.”
Poojary added that the company’s tools help eliminate conflicts over the ambiguity of water bills between property managers and tenants.
The system can also inform property managers about potential risks of water damages. About 40% of revenue comes from the sale of hardware while 60% comes from software subscription fees, according to Poojary. The company is a tenant at LACI.
“We built a solution that provides the knowledge of water to … all different stakeholders that are involved in the supply, consumption and management of how water goes through the property, (so they) have all the information they need to reduce the risk and make sure they’re not wasting too much water,” Poojary said.