Photograph by David McLain
Water is the basis of life, and on this planet only a tiny share—less than one percent of all water—is available for nearly 7 billion people and a myriad of freshwater aquatic ecosystems. It's that tiny share of freshwater that we have to use to meet all of our needs—irrigation, industry, drinking water, and sanitation—and the needs of thousands, if not millions, of other species that we share the planet with.
The average American lifestyle demands 2,000 gallons a day to support, with 70 percent of that going to support our diets. If each of us learned how to conserve just a little more water, it could add up to big savings. National Geographic's Freshwater Fellow, Sandra Postel, thinks you should start with these simple changes:
- Choose outdoor landscaping appropriate for your climate. Native plants and grasses that thrive on natural rainfall only are best.
- Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators. Because you’re saving hot water, you’ll also reduce your energy bill. (More at "Bathroom Revamp: Savings by the Gallon.")
- If you’re in the market for a toilet, buy a low-volume, ultra low-volume, or dual-flush model. (Read Green Guide's "Toilet Buying Guide.")
- Fix leaky faucets. All those wasted drops add up—sometimes to 10-25 gallons a day. (Learn more on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's, or EPA's, WaterSense website.)
- Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when full. When it’s time to replace them, buy a water- and energy-efficient model. Remember, saving water saves energy, and saving energy saves water. (Read Green Guide's "Dishwasher Buying Guide.")
- Eat a bit less meat, especially beef. A typical hamburger can take 630 gallons to produce. (Learn more about the water embedded in your food with National Geographic's "The Hidden Water We Use" interactive.)
- Buy less stuff. Everything takes water to make. So if we buy less, we shrink our water footprint.
- Recycle plastics, glass, metals, and paper. Buy re-usable products rather than throw-aways, as it takes water to make most everything.
- Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth and washing the dishes. Shave a minute or two off your shower time. Millions of people doing even the little things makes a difference.
- Know the source of your drinking water—the river, lake, or aquifer that supplies your home. Once you know it, you’ll care about it. You just won’t want to waste water. (Find out more about your water sources with the EPA's "Surf Your Watershed" interactive.)
More About Freshwater
The world's freshwater resources play a crucial role in feeding, powering, and sustaining all life, but they're not infinite—or invulnerable. Learn what's at stake.
Earth is a water wealthy planet, but only a tiny portion of its water is available to support people and aquatic species. Learn more about how much freshwater there is, and where it's found.
Read National Geographic's Freshwater Fellow and Director of the Global Water Policy Project, Sandra Postel's essay on the essential role water plays in our world.
Find out how much water it really takes to support your lifestyle.
Help Save the Colorado River
You can help restore freshwater ecosystems by pledging to cut your water footprint. For every pledge, Change the Course will restore 1,000 gallons back to the Colorado River.
Pete is a photographer and visual storyteller with an emphasis on freshwater conservation.
Sandra is a leading authority on international freshwater issues and is spearheading our global freshwater efforts.
For more than 15 years, Osvel Hinojosa Huerta has been resurrecting Mexico's Colorado River Delta wetlands.
Change the Course Infographic
Check out this infographic and learn how you can conserve water and save the Colorado River, as well as other freshwater ecosystems.
Water Currents, by Sandra Postel and Others
Arizona's Verde River gets a boost from an innovative partnership.
Farmers in the Verde River Basin employ new technology to benefit a desert environment.
Funny viral video series hopes to get people thinking about the importance of water.