When it comes to commodities, attention typically focuses on gold and oil. But there's only one commodity that humans truly cannot live without - water.
Water covers nearly three-fourths of the Earth's surface, but 97.5% of that is undrinkable seawater, and 70% of what remains is frozen in glaciers.
Climate change, pollution and mismanagement of water resources have already created problems supplying the world's 7 billion people with fresh drinking water. None of those problems are going away, and all are likely to get worse - the earth's population, for example, is expected to reach 9 billion by 2025.
At least 80 countries already are suffering from water shortages, and the United Nations (UN) estimates that 67% of the world population will be "water-stressed" by 2025.
Even parts of the United States have increasingly suffered from droughts and water shortages, particularly in the West and sections of the South, like Texas.
"Water isn't just the oil of the 21st century; water is the raw material for life, for everything," said Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald. "I truly believe, as we see this all play out, that water could end up being even pricier than oil - on a per-liter basis."
Just as companies like ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) have profited from a high-demand commodity like oil, so too will many of today's water companies profit as fresh water becomes increasingly scarce.
Still, no one is quite sure when water company stocks will start to take off, so the smartest way to play this industry is to look for companies that pay you to wait by offering up a healthy dividend.
Fortunately, since many companies in the water business are utilities, quite a few fit this definition.
Here are seven water company stocks that are in a position to profit from the "blue gold" and that will put cash in your pocket in the meantime: