World Water Day, a day where we celebrate the importance of water and work towards protecting it for future generations. The United Nations General Assembly designated March 22nd as World Water Day in 1993 to raise awareness of water’s role in our lives.
Water provides us with life and livelihoods, but it also has many other important natural functions crucial for ecosystems to function.
In the spirit of World Water Day, we’ve compiled a list of facts and statistics about water that will make you reconsider how much you really need. According to the United States Geological Survey, Earth is mostly covered in water (about 71% or 148 million square miles). But only 3% of that is freshwater.
So, where does all the rest come from? Well, it’s pretty simple: rain. That means when it rains on your city block, some of that freshwater seeps into an underground reservoir called groundwater which feeds streams and rivers as well as lakes and reservoirs – like those found just outside Washington D.C., for example! The next time you take a sip from one of these sources, be thankful for the ground that feeds it.
Why world water day is important
Over the course of a lifetime, humans typically use about 50 gallons per day. In other words, every time you turn on the tap or take a shower, you’re using roughly three times more freshwater than people in developing nations. So when it’s not being used for drinking and cooking, we use our precious supply for flushing toilets, washing cars, and watering lawns.
The good news is that if each American reduced their daily use by just 25%, it would equal an annual savings of 1 trillion gallons of water – enough to fill 80 Olympic-sized swimming pools! And research has shown that if everyone in the world were to reduce their personal freshwater usage by 30%, we could close the gap between clean freshwater availability and global demand by 2050.
It all adds up. The average American family of four uses about 700 gallons per day for basic needs, like flushing toilets, taking showers, and doing laundry. It may sound high – but even if we reduce our usage by just 10%, it will save enough water in one year to fill 800 Olympic-sized swimming pools! Not convinced?
We bet this infographic could change your mind! Trends show that as awareness of global warming increases worldwide, so too does concern for the environment (a big part of which is freshwater quality). In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that 46% of Americans are worried ‘a great deal’ about water pollution. So don’t just save water: do your part to help extend our freshwater supply by protecting the watersheds and ecosystems from which it all flows!
It’s easy not to notice what we take for granted every day until something is missing – like clean running water or a cold, refreshing drink on a hot summer afternoon. While the United States has abundant freshwater sources, 70% of these have been compromised by pollution from humans and nature. Only 50% of rivers and lakes meet Water Quality Standards (and only 20% in rural areas). The good news is that making small changes around your home can have a huge impact on the water quality in your watershed. Plus, you’ll be saving money on utility bills!
What’s Happening Right Now?
The DC area has recently experienced quite a bit of rainfall – and that means more water flowing through local streams and rivers into our drinking water supply. In fact, runoff from rainfall is the primary source of pollution in most waterways. But we can do something about it! By reducing runoff from impervious surfaces by 50% while also planting trees near our streams and rivers, we can turn these polluted areas into clean, healthy bodies of water again.
Did you know that it’s not just the rain that flows into our streams, rivers, and lakes? Most of the water in our watersheds comes from rainfall, but about 25% is actually due to stormwater runoff – which can cause major pollution problems. An average household produces over 1 ton of wastewater a year in their laundry room alone (and what goes down the drain doesn’t always stay there!). So check out these easy tips for saving money on utility bills by simply fixing your home leaks. You might be surprised at how much you’re pouring down the drain!
What does contaminated water look like?
All types of trash and debris can end up in our waterways. Over 30% of the trash found in America’s lakes is due to stormwater runoff – everything from cigarette butts and plastic bags (which can clog our waterways) to car parts and shopping carts that are accidentally disposed of into storm drain. The good news is that reducing your own pollution directly impacts keeping these items out of waterways. Learn more about how simple steps can make a big difference!
It’s easiest to reduce pollution when you know what’s coming down the drain! Reversing this flow requires only a few easy steps: check for leaks around toilets, sinks, and faucets by putting food coloring into the pipes before you go to bed; if you see the color in the basin when you wake up, you know that leak is draining out into your yard or a nearby stream – a fix as simple as wrapping Teflon tape around the joints. Or try this sweet solution to find even more leaks: drop food coloring tablets in all of your toilets and check in an hour or so; if any color appears in your basin, then it’s time to take action!
Did you know that pooling water can become contaminated pretty quickly?
One storm can lead to hundreds of pools of standing water on your property (and little microbes like E-coli that love soaking up water).
It’s a big world out there, and it’s getting bigger every day. Water moves all over the globe as part of an amazing cycle: from clouds to rivers to oceans and back again. Learn how you can do your part in this process – everything from picking up litter along a river to recycling – and making a huge difference!
We have been exploring these themes through some of this year’s news stories about water-related issues like climate change or political tensions around rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates. We hope you enjoy reading them! A selection of some of the articles is below.
Climate change can significantly impact the availability and quality of water supply, which poses many threats to people’s health and society.
A new study by scientists at the Imperial College London has found that climate change could worsen lake pollution in Europe’s Alpine region due to changes in rainfall patterns and temperature. The risk will be particularly high for lakes with poor natural water treatment processes, where eutrophication is likely to occur due to increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer or animal manure runoff.
Eutrophication is an adverse effect caused by excessive growth in algal populations (a process called ‘bloom’), resulting in low oxygen levels that can kill fish or other organisms. In recent years, eutrophication has increased in many lakes across Europe and the world – largely due to water management practices like canal building, sewage treatment, and agriculture intensification, which provide more nutrients into the lakes than natural water processes can support.
While some countries have already made a lot of progress with water conservation strategies, there are still many challenges to be faced so that everyone worldwide can benefit from safe drinking water. Many people could foreseeably be living without access to safe drinking water by 2040 unless we take action today.
The availability and quality of freshwater is connected to many social issues:
Poverty, famine, infant mortality, and climate change, among others. Some countries, like India and Pakistan, are already struggling to meet the water demands of their growing populations. In most parts of the world, though, pollution is still considered one of the biggest threats to water quality. Here’s a look at some important headlines that have appeared recently on our newsroom:
The dialogue between science and policymaking can be difficult, but in our view, it’s essential if we want to tackle such complex issues as climate change or water shortages. This month’s edition of Nature Climate Change has an interesting article by Patrick Hefferon on how scientists should engage with policymakers. Read more about his perspective in this blog post by Alex Kirby, who also sent us some comments from other experts :
That brings me to another good piece that came out this week, from The Conversation, where Clare Gilbert interviewed Dr. Friederike Otto and her colleagues at the University of Oxford to discover why they decided to take action on climate change.
Water scarcity is a growing problem in many regions around the world, so we’ve been looking in particular at how countries manage their water resources. A recent study by researchers affiliated with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Columbia University shows that several large agriculture producers have increased food production while reducing water usage over the past decade – something called ‘water productivity. But while encouraging, it suggests that India should do more to control fertilizer use and waste when producing crops.
Countries struggle with water allocation in international rivers such as Tigris-Euphrates, Nile, or Brahmaputra. A recent study suggests that drought can be an important factor in triggering such disputes in some cases. Therefore it may be helpful to look at seasonal climate forecasts when assessing risks for conflict.
Climate change is also influencing the world’s major rivers’ flows, but how these changes will unfold remains unclear. This month we feature a new paper investigating whether there are links between past droughts and river flow from different parts of the world through one common physical mechanism, like a ‘water cycle amplification, which would indicate similarities in our future climate response. Overall, this research finds no compelling evidence for any widespread linkage between past droughts and river flow anomalies – yet.
More on drought later, but for now, here’s a look at how climate change affects agriculture around the world. A new paper in Environmental Research Letters by Richard Betts and colleagues examines the effects of increasing CO2 levels on global crop yields in the coming decades. This study finds that crops are expected to be negatively affected by high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations with production losses for all three major cereal crops (wheat, rice, and maize). Overall this means that we can expect an 11% decline in global crop yields by 2050 compared to current levels if we follow a ‘business as usual scenario.
World Water Day is a day to recognize the importance of freshwater and how it impacts our lives. Although we may not realize it, water plays an important role in many aspects of our daily life, including cleaning clothes, preparing food, drinking as part of a healthy diet, or for hydration purposes after exercise or illness. The United Nations has declared that every person on earth has the right to access clean water and sanitation services without discrimination – but this isn’t always possible due to a lack of infrastructure such as pipes or treatment facilities near where people live. So today, remember: more than 7 billion people need clean water each day, so don’t go wasting any!