Freshwater is one of our world's most precious resources. It's essential for drinking and preserving life on Earth, it's critical to ensuring proper sanitation and disease prevention, and it helps our food to grow. Without it, our ecosystems wouldn't survive.
But freshwater is often taken for granted here in the U.S., where 92 percent of the population is fortunate enough to have access to clean and reliable drinking water — far different than the 1.7 billion people worldwide who live without access every day.
We're incredibly lucky to live in a part of the world where clean water opportunities are plentiful. But access now doesn't mean access always, and the reality is freshwater scarcity is quickly becoming a growing concern for many American communities as we look toward the future.
In fact, according to a 2014 Government Accountability Report, 80 percent of state water managers predicted they'd experience water shortages over the following decade — and that's just under average conditions!
Pair that with a growing likelihood of extreme weather events, like droughts and heat waves, continued population growth, and increased demand on food production, and it's likely this risk will only continue to rise over the next ten years.
But what does this mean for us? And how are these shortages expected to impact our communities? Well, the unfortunate truth is these answers may be more significant and closer to home than you initially think.
Here's what you need to know.
Water conservation is the sustainable management of water consumption through strategies, policies, and habits that aim to preserve our resources, reduce impact, and ensure the safety of our ecosystems for future generations.
Without these efforts, the effects could be disastrous. For instance, consider the following.
The agriculture industry is the biggest consumer of freshwater globally, representing more than 70 percent of the freshwater used by humans. Without ample water, our livestock wouldn't survive, our fruits and vegetables wouldn't grow, and we'd be without many of the important grains we use to feed ourselves and our families on a day-to-day basis.
Did you know that in the last 125 years, roughly half of the world's wetlands have been destroyed? It's a shocking statistic, but it's true.
Our wetlands are home to some of the most biologically rich ecosystems in the world, providing habitats for countless mammals, fish, plant life, microorganisms, and more. They also support natural water filtration and help to mitigate flood and erosion damage by absorbing excess water.
Sadly, they're also frequently filled or drained by humans looking to develop land, impacted by increased pollutants, and altered by sea level changes, agriculture, and forestry practices.
Without proper conservation efforts, these vital ecosystems will only continue to disappear, taking with them critical habitat space and destroying natural structures that keep our communities in balance.
Pollution, droughts, and disappearing supply also threaten our access to safe and reliable drinking water — a resource we rely on for cooking, consumption, and basic hygiene habits like laundry, showering, and brushing our teeth.
In fact, by 2071, some scientists worry that nearly half of our country's freshwater basins will be unable to support consumer demand — a statistic that feels particularly daunting when you consider that our population is expected to grow by 200 million in the next 75 years.
Some of these problems may seem far in the future, but the truth is they're not, and many communities throughout America are already starting to feel the effects of water supply issues today.
For instance, New Orleans is currently experiencing threats to their drinking water supply as a result of saltwater making its way up the Mississippi River. A recent report worries that Utah's Great Salt Lake will disappear within the next five years as a consequence of water diversions, climate change, and population growth.
El Nino conditions have limited rainfall in Seattle to the extent that communities are doubling down on conservation efforts as they wait for more rain to replenish reservoirs. And Arizona has limited construction on future homes after discovering that the available groundwater in Phoenix falls 4 percent short of their projected growth over the next 100 years.
The point of sharing this isn't to scare anyone, though. Rather, it's to point out the importance of each of us taking action to protect our freshwater resources.
What does that look like? Well, it can take many forms, but to get you started, we've put together a few of our favorite simple and effective tips to ramp up your water conservation efforts at home. Find them below!
Household water leaks account for nearly 9,400 gallons of wasted water annually — that's roughly 300 loads of laundry! Conducting a simple at-home check to assess for water leaks is a great way to reduce waste.
Here's a checklist to help guide your home assessment!
It might not be the first consideration that comes to mind when you’re planning out your garden, but planting with water conservation in mind is a great way to help save on resources!
Try to select plants that naturally thrive in your regional climate, group plants with similar watering requirements together, and, as much as possible, strive to limit areas of grassy turf (which tend to have higher watering requirements).
PRO TIP! If you often have to water plants in your garden, consider installing a rain barrel! Rain barrels effectively capture stormwater that can be repurposed around the property to water lawns and plants, reducing the need to use your hose!
WaterSense is a partner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They work to reduce water waste and conserve resources by encouraging innovation in the design and manufacturing of products that use water.
Products that feature the WaterSense label are required to meet efficiency and performance critieria set forth by the EPA. As a result, they're certified to use at least 20 percent less water, consume less energy, and perform to the same standard, if not better, than their traditional counterparts.
If you want to upgrade some of your home's water appliances, you can find a current list of WaterSense-certified toilets, showerheads, and bathroom faucets by clicking here.
Like WaterSense products, ENERGY STAR appliances are constructed to meet strict guidelines set forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. They're designed to run more efficiently and consume less energy, all without compromising on quality.
Investing in ENERGY STAR-certified dishwashers and washing machines is a great way to ensure more effective use of water at home. In fact, ENERGY STAR laundry machines, on average, use 30 percent less water than non-ENERGY STAR washers, and ENERGY STAR dishwashers can save up to 8,400 gallons of water each year when compared to washing dishes by hand — that's some major savings!
Click here to browse a current list of ENERGY STAR-certified appliances.
Our last tip is also our simplest. Reduce, reduce, reduce! Whenever you have the opportunity, think consciously about your consumption habits and how you can dial back on water use.
For instance, you could:
Together, we can make a real impact on keeping our freshwater resources safe and plentiful for years to come. It may feel like a drop in the bucket, but you'd be surprised how quickly these small changes in habit can make a real splash in your community's conservation efforts!