It’s easy to take freshwater for granted. After all, most of us have a seemingly endless supply at the simple turn of a faucet. Yet around the globe, even in the U.S., there are areas at risk of losing access to this essential resource.
The earth is 70 percent water. But of that, freshwater makes up just 2.5 percent—and less than 1 percent of that is easily accessible. And we’re not the only ones who rely on freshwater. Countless species of plants and animals inhabit creeks, ponds, wetlands and rivers—ecosystems increasingly at risk due to stress on our freshwater supply.
A Resource in Peril
The United Nations’ water agency, UN Water, reports that more than 40 percent of the world’s population is subject to water scarcity, and that number is rising.
In the U.S., water shortages as a result of drought and other environmental stressors are also increasing. In 2010, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that more than 1,100 U.S. counties (one-third of the counties in the lower 48) now face higher risks of water shortages by 2050.
Even areas without an obvious water problem are in jeopardy. After all, it’s not just access to water that’s important—it’s access to clean water. Contamination from runoff, ineffective stormwater and sewer systems, and an increasing number of impervious surfaces like roads and roofs make it more challenging to keep our water supply fresh and plentiful.
The Daily Cost
According to National Geographic’s blog, Water Currents, the average person in America uses nearly 2,000 gallons of water per day. About 100 of those gallons travel through our faucets or water our lawns. The rest puts food on our tables and provides other services we depend on. For example, it takes 880 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of milk.
Making the Most of Our Supply
The good news is that individual actions can make a difference. Leading by example, the Aquarium has developed some of its own innovative, water-saving initiatives. The main building is equipped with a green roof that absorbs and filters rainwater. An upcycled seal pool serves as a cistern, collecting water to be reused in sprinkler systems on the Waterfront Plaza. Unless there is extreme drought, the Aquarium doesn’t use municipal water to maintain this exhibit space, saving about 40,000 gallons a year.
Homeowners can install their own rain gardens—a water-conscious way to care for lawns. And going vegan just once a week can reduce the tremendous water cost of meat and dairy products.
To help consumers make water-friendly choices, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established WaterSense, a program certifying products and services that meet water-conservation standards. A WaterSense label indicates a faucet, showerhead or other fixture is 20 percent more water efficient than average. The EPA estimates that if one in every 10 homes in the U.S. were to install WaterSense-labeled faucets, we could save a remarkable six billion gallons of water per year.
A few simple steps can make a big difference, not only in gallons but also in the health of our planet’s finite supply of clean freshwater and all who rely on it.