When Edgar Terry walks his fields in the morning, there’s one thing on his mind: water. The 61-year-old farmer owns 700 hectares of land — a total of 12 fields with bell pepper, strawberries, spinach, celery and cilantro that have to be watered all year round.
His family has run the Terry Farms for 126 years, a long-established farming company in Ventura County about an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles, California, where water is often scarce. “I think about water every day of the week, especially now because we’re in a drought,” Terry told DW.
Some 2,000 miles (2,320 kilometers) east of Ventura County, Chicago has set out to fight water scarcity. At the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), the world’s biggest futures exchange, investors usually speculate on assets such as oil, wood or aluminum.
Water futures added
But since early December, investors have been able to trade the Nasdaq Veles California Index where the prices of water usage rights are reflected in so-called water futures. Futures are derivative financial contracts that obligate the parties to transact an asset at a predetermined future date and price.
What’s important is that the buyer must purchase or the seller must sell the underlying asset at the set price, regardless of the current market price at the expiration date. Such contracts are meant to help farmers simplify their calculations.
California Mercantile Exchange traders can now experiment with a new financial product — water futures
Municipal companies and utilities could also stand to profit from water futures, the CME argues. In California where water is scarce, water prices often soar overnight because of wildfires or droughts.
Costs for the next six months can only be estimated roughly at as Nasdaq Senior Manager Patrick Wolf told Bloomberg. He’s in charge of the futures in California, the United States’ largest water market.
Farmers like Edgar Terry believe the Wall Street initiative might come in handy. When a drought is on the horizon, they could secure enough water in time at reasonable prices. Terry, who in a side job is a professor of finance at California Lutheran University, says the futures could enable him to secure today’s prices for tomorrow’s supplies.
In neighboring Kern County, farmers have for decades aimed to use wastewater from oil and gas mining for their fields during protracted periods of drought. There, recycled water already accounts for up to 30% of the annual irrigation budget. According to the LA Times, oil giant Chevron alone delivered over 20 million gallons (76 million liters) of wastewater to farmers in Kern County in 2015.
However, scientists and environmentalists have been warning of health hazards for consumers, because even after the purification process, traces of harmful chemicals such as arsenic as well as some poisonous substances and radioactive elements remain in the water.
But experts are likewise skeptical about water futures, saying it…