Fresh Water

According to the World Health Organization, people need at least 100 liters of water a day for optimum health and sanitation—that’s equivalent to a bathtub that’s just two-thirds full. But it took an entire bathtub full of water to produce the coffee beans for that cup of coffee you drank this morning, and 10 full bathtubs of water were used to grow the cotton in your favorite t-shirt.

The average person in Hong Kong consumes 130 liters of fresh water — and flushes an additional 90 liters of what’s primarily seawater down the toilet — every day. But by 2050, you and one billion other city dwellers in Hong Kong and in cities around the world might have to live on less than 100 liters of water per day if we don’t take action now, according to a new study by The Nature Conservancy and other institutions.

It’s clear we’re using water at an unsustainable rate, and a UN study says water shortages will likely be a fact of life for most people on the planet within the next decade — unless we do something now. Just 1% of the water on Earth is easily accessible, with most of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. How will we protect the fresh water we have and reduce our current usage to meet the demands of nature and the 7 billion people who depend on it?

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About Photo: Did you know that 75% of Asian countries face water shortages?

How The Nature Conservancy Works to Protect Fresh Water

Forests, grasslands, and wetlands are nature’s water filters. They help keep erosion and pollution from flowing into our water, but every year we lose 13 million hectares of forest — an area larger than Fujian Province. That’s a lot of water filters gone, every year.

The Nature Conservancy works around the world to protect freshwater sources we all rely on. Our work on the ground:

  • Prevents deforestation and destruction of grasslands — nature’s water filters — in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, in Australia, and around the world.
  • Restores forests and grasslands that have already been damaged to prevent them from polluting our waters.
  • Equips farmers with practical ways to keep harmful runoff out of our water.
  • Creates new science that helps pinpoint the greatest threats to our water and the most effective ways to combat them.
  • Helps guide the functioning of dams like Three Gorges so that they can provide power, and supply clean water, to nature, to people, and to businesses.

deforestation in indonesia

Protecting Water Sources in China

yangtze river in china

In China, The Nature Conservancy works on the Yangtze River’s upper reaches, where we help protect the river’s only fish sanctuary.

The Conservancy is also actively involved in efforts to improve the operation of major hydropower projects like Three Gorges Dam, making the Yangtze safer and more productive for the 400 million people who depend on it.

Working with the Chinese government, major hydropower companies, and other non-profit organizations, The Nature Conservancy has detailed a plan that can optimize electricity production and flood control while providing fresh water to people, fish, and the river’s aquatic ecosystems. When implemented, this plan will:

  • Release water flows from key dams along the Yangtze to mimic natural river flows needed to sustain fish populations.
  • Restore the Yangtze’s floodplain wetlands, which are essential in providing clean water to tens of millions of people.
  • Create sustainable funding for freshwater conservation through revenues generated from sustainable dam operations.

Reducing Fresh Water Use

More than 70% of the water we take from nature is used for agriculture, so the Conservancy prioritizes getting new technologies and practices to farmers who can reduce their water use while still producing the food and other goods we all need. By working with farmers in the United States to harness more efficient irrigation equipment, make use of GPS to avoid watering places that don’t need to be watered, and implement more sophisticated crop rotation methods, we’ve been able to help them reduce their water use by 57 billion liters of water per year — enough to fill 380 million bathtubs or supply everyone in Hong Kong with fresh water for 62 days.

The Conservancy has plans to replicate this innovative agricultural use water reduction program piloted in the US in other countries.

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What You Can Do

We all have a role to play in reducing freshwater consumption. We all know to turn off the water when brushing our teeth and to take shorter showers, but did you know that you can save water by unplugging electronics?

Becoming a Conservation Champion empowers you to protect fresh water around the world—for people, for plants and animals, and for the goods you depend on. Will you join us?