71% of our planet is covered in water, but water isn't as abundant a resource as you might think.

An iceberg floating in water with snow-capped peaks behind and clouds in the blue sky. Photo by Imme on Unsplash

Water lives in a delicate balance on the planet, and humanity has upset that balance. It's estimated that "by 2030, water demand is expected to exceed current water supply by 40%."

You can better conserve water by understanding where and how water is threatened, and by taking a look at how you use water. By doing this, you can help avoid the critical water shortages that are predicted for the future.

Water Threats

Groundwater is our major source of fresh water, accounting for about 99% of Earth's fresh water. What threatens these waters?

  • Pollution from multiple sources (e.g. sanitation, fuel leaks, improper waste disposal, etc.)

  • Overexploitation of ground water

  • Decreased watershed recharge zones (i.e. areas where water can be absorbed into groundwater systems are being paved and developed)

  • Aquifer compaction

  • Droughts and flooding

Additional threats to all of our water resources are:

While there are many threats to our water, there are many solutions.

Where Is Water Used?

What do you think of when you think of water usage?

You might think about the water you use for a shower, cooking, or laundry. Water use at the domestic level is highly visible and physical. This is why we often think of water use from this perspective. But it isn't the only way you use water.

An African-American woman helping her daughter wash broccoli under running water. Photo by Tyson on Unsplash

Water is used everywhere. Water usage is typically divided into categories like:

  • Municipal including domestic (e.g. homes, government buildings, etc.)

  • Agriculture (e.g. irrigation, aquaculture, washing produce, etc.)

  • Industry & manufacturing (e.g. textile and pharmaceutical manufacturing, steel and paper industries, energy production, etc.)

  • Ecosystems (e.g. wetlands, rivers, lakes, grasslands, forests, etc.)

  • Recreation (e.g. swimming, kayaking, skiing, etc.)

Since water is used everywhere, we need to think about water conservation everywhere.

Home Conservation and Impact

Our choices at home have a great impact on water conservation in all categories of use. This is because at home, people use water in two ways. First, we use water in a physical, or visible way. But we also use water in a virtual, or embodied way.

Conducting a water audit can help you learn how much water you are using.

A dog drinking water from a metal water can sitting on lawn. Photo by Paul Johnston on Unsplash

Physical Conservation

These common water conservation methods help to conserve your physical water usage and can reduce your water, sewer, and electricity bills.

  • Turn off water when brushing teeth or shaving

  • Take shorter showers

  • Replace water fixtures like faucets and shower heads with water efficient options

  • Use and run the dishwasher only when full (avoid washing dishes by hand)

  • Use laundry settings that match water levels to load size

  • Water house plants with harvested rainwater or shower water, collected while the water heats up

Hand holding phone that says

Virtual Water Conservation

Virtual water, or embodied water, is water used to grow, produce, or manufacture food and products.

We don't see the water used, but the products add demand to the use of global water supplies. You can conserve virtual water by reducing the number of products you buy, extending a product's useful life, and choosing products produced with lower virtual water.

Consider the virtual water used to produce these common products and foods:

  • A cotton t-shirt = 2,700 liters of water

  • A car = 40,000 gallons of water

  • Cheese = 5,605 liters per kilogram

  • Farmed fish = 3,691 liters per kilogram

  • Tomatoes = 370 liters per kilogram

  • Potatoes = 59 liters per kilogram

Ecosystem Conservation Tips

The planet's ecosystems naturally filter water. They help reduce flooding and mitigate droughts. They provide buffers during severe weather.

Forests, wetlands, and riparian areas are critical to maintaining watersheds and conserving our freshwater and groundwater resources.

Therefore, ecosystem conservation and restoration have a significant impact on water conservation as well.

How can you help conserve water at the ecosystem level?

  • Volunteer with water conservation groups

  • Become a water activist in your community, and regional governments, to advocate for land preservation and green infrastructure

  • Donate to land trusts and other organizations conserving land in critical watersheds

  • Change your search engine to Ecosia, which plants trees that help to stabilize water systems

Agricultural Conservation Tips

You don't need to garden to tackle agricultural water conservation. Around 70% of groundwater is used to irrigate agricultural crops, and more in arid climates.

Here are a few tips you can follow to support water conservation in agriculture:

  • Back local, sustainable, and regenerative farms that use water conservation methods as part of their daily practice

  • Reduce food waste to reduce the virtual water you use

Alarge garden on hillside with small fruit trees, trellised vining vegetables, and other crops. Photo by Eder Pozo Pérez on Unsplash

If you do garden...

Home gardens connect you to nature and help you become more aware of your local water cycles. Conserve water in your garden by:

  • Selecting native plants and drought-tolerant varieties

  • Choosing perennials over annuals (e.g. perennial vegetables, perennial flowers, etc.)

  • Collecting roof runoff and use it to irrigate your garden

  • Using household wastewater to irrigate the garden

  • Avoiding damaging practices (e.g. tilling, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, etc.)

  • Use organic material to build soil fertility

Industrial Water Use and Conservation Tips

Water is used in manufacturing and industrial processes (e.g. cooling, sterilizing, fabric dying, washing, etc.) and as a component in products (e.g. medicines, beverages, etc.)

Industry and energy use about 19% of global freshwater, and 27% of groundwater withdrawn is for manufacturing.

Reducing your consumption of manufactured products is a critical step in conserving water.

Additional conservation practices that can impact the industrial and manufacturing sectors:

  • Choose products designed to have lower water needs during production

  • Extend the life of current items you own, which reduces their per/year water footprint

  • Choose second-hand items (e.g. clothing, cookware, etc.) extending the life of already existing products

  • Choose to borrow, rent, or subscribe to services that allow you to use tools, books, clothing, or other products rather than out-right purchasing

  • Choose durable products thereby reducing the need for frequent replacements

Water Conservation Quiz

Charlie is planning a summer party. They have over 30 people coming and want to make a great impression. Charlie is worried about the environmental footprint of the party, specifically when it comes to water.

Charlie knows the party needs to have food, drinks, and activities perfect for a summer gathering. They even want to provide some party favors.

Charlie is considering the following to make their summer party not just memorable but water-friendly:

A. Having the party at a local park that was designed for water efficiency

B. Having water balloon fights, a kiddie pool, and/or sprinklers

C. Sourcing all the food from local organic farms that produce food sustainably

D. Creating a "goodie bag" using reusable bags that include reusable party and picnic supplies like cups, plates, and utensils


Which of the ideas Charlie is considering for the party are water-friendly? Select all that apply:

Take Action

Water conservation is simple but not easy. Building your water conservation practices will take time and is best started with a water audit.

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As you learn more about your water footprint and water conservation, you can build and adopt more sustainable water conservation practices into your daily life and help others do the same, whether at home, school, or work.


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