Water Insecurity: Close to Home

It’s World Water Week, and people around the globe are being asked to consider the water conservation challenges facing them at home and abroad.

Published August 29, 2019

Earth is an ocean planet. 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and 80% of all life on Earth is found in the ocean. Everything we do on our blue planet touches—and is touched by—water.

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Living on an ocean planet can make it a bit difficult to conceptualize water conservation. After all, water is everywhere, right? Why does it need to be ‘conserved’?

Consider the types of water out there.

Fresh water only makes up 2.5% of all water on Earth and only 1% is available, easily accessible fresh water. That makes protecting our freshwater resources an integral part of conservation, for both animals and humans.

Human activity influences water conservation in any number of ways. Pressures are exerted on our water supply by modern living practices, including the contamination of our waterways via nutrient, plastic, and other types of pollution. Development causes habitat loss and damages natural processes critical to keeping freshwater resources healthy and abundant. Human-driven climate change effects weather patterns, leading to the degradation of long-standing water resources. Humans are mighty—and that means the effect we have on the world, and its water, is pretty mighty too.

Do water conservation issues affect the areas where you live? These are some of America’s great water conservation challenges:

The Great Plains—where the vast majority of American staple crops are grown—largely relies on an ancient freshwater aquifer known as The Ogallala. That same aquifer supplies drinking water to 82% of the 2.3 million people living in the High Plains region, and if current consumption patterns are not altered, it could run dry in less than 50 years.

The Colorado River serves as a vital source of water for more than 40 million people across seven states and Mexico. Dammed, diverted, and used for irrigation since the 1800s, the river now rarely reaches the sea—the last 100 miles of its former course are usually dry, and the reservoirs dependent on the river regularly experience severe shortfalls. This overuse is also devastating for the wildlife dependent on the Colorado.

Aging infrastructure also poses a threat to our freshwater resources, from the lead pipes of Flint, Michigan, to the aging levies across the American South and the PCB contamination of the Hudson River. Old, leaky pipes and chemical contamination threaten many American drinking water sources, and will require extensive upkeep and repair, especially as damaging, uncommon weather events increase.

Habitat loss across the United States damages the ability of soils to hold and retain water as well, leading to exacerbated floods and diminished aquifers. Maryland natives will recall the flooding of Ellicott City in 2016 and 2018—sparked off by high-volume storms and intensified by upstream development.

These may seem like a dizzying array of problems to tackle, but the good news is that this presents us with many opportunities to make an impact. Whether you are limiting your water consumption with the purchase of water-saving appliances, consuming more vegetables and less meat, landscaping with local trees and flowers, or letting your elected leaders know that clean water matters to you, you can be part of the effort to develop a more conservation-conscious world!

Wondering how much water you use, and how to save more? Try this water footprint calculator.

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