It may seem easiest just to leave the water running while you brush your teeth, but wasting all of that water has serious consequences for the environment and human health. Although water appears to be abundant, it is a limited resource and making it drinkable uses a lot of energy. Only a small proportion of Earth's water is fresh water and less than 1 percent of that is accessible for human use. If we do not conserve water, we will face disruptions in our supply of food and clean water.
Many areas in the western U.S. experience water shortages. At the beginning of 2014, California faced its worst drought in 500 years, according to B. Lynn Ingram, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. The State Water Project, which supplements the local water supply for several California towns, is completely out of water. California's drought conditions are not unique -- dry conditions are causing reservoirs to dry up, wildfires to ignite and livestock to starve all over the world. If we fail to conserve water a growing number of people will struggle to find fresh drinking water.
Dwindling water supplies mean less available water for agricultural irrigation. Almost 70 percent of the water used by people is used to water crops and livestock for food production. The global population is increasing, which will increase the demand for food. However, global water supplies are decreasing due to pollution and contamination. Conserving water will help maintain the water supply necessary for food production. Crops cannot grow without adequate moisture, so if the water supply diminishes, food prices will rise and more people will experience food insecurity.
Water scarcity threatens ecosystems worldwide. More than half of the Earth's wetlands have dried up or been destroyed. Wetlands are home to a diverse array of animal and plant life. They often act as nurseries for birds and fish, so their disappearance has had a significant effect on several species. Other ecosystems, and the species they support, have been negatively affected by drought. People rely on nature as a food source, as well as a source of income from hunting, tourism and other recreational activities. Water conservation helps preserve various ecosystems and the animals (including people) that rely on them.
Nearly a billion people worldwide lack a reliable source of clean water, and there is a big discrepancy between water consumption in developed and developing countries. Conserving water ensures that everyone has the opportunity to quench their thirst. You can help by being mindful of your water consumption and limiting it whenever possible. Take short showers and turn the water off while brushing your teeth. Run the dishwasher only when it is full and only do full loads of laundry. Instead of pouring water down the drain, use it to water plants.
- University of Michigan: Human Appropriation of the World's Fresh Water Supply
- Boston Globe: Much of Western U.S. Facing Severe Water Shortage
- Penn State Extension: Household Water Conservation
- United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Water and Food Security
- World Wildlife Fund: Water Scarcity
- David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images