When you open a faucet, you probably don’t think much about how water comes out. Unless there is a plumbing problem, water is always there. It’s always there when we take a shower, wash the dishes, get a drink, or flush the toilet.
Water’s availability makes it hard to think about water’s scarcity, or water being in short supply. In pictures of Earth from outer space, a large percentage of the surface is covered with water. But what we see is ocean saltwater. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 97% of all water on Earth is undrinkable. Only 3% is drinkable freshwater.
Of Earth’s freshwater, two-thirds is found in glaciers and icecaps. It is inaccessible for human usage. That leaves only 1% of Earth’s water available. Most of that is groundwater, found underground. Only 0.03% of Earth’s freshwater is available on the surface, in lakes, rivers, streams, and swamps.
The United States uses more water per person than any other country. The average American uses 98 gallons of water every day. We are using fresh water faster than it can be replaced. Without methods to save water, we all face water shortages.
Many countries, including those in desert climates and those with rapidly growing populations, have worked hard to conserve water. Israel, for example, recycles 85% of its wastewater, which it then uses for agriculture. A growing number of countries have desalination plants that remove salt from ocean water. Saudi Arabia’s desalination plants are powered by solar technology.
The United States, too, is working to reduce water usage. Through conservation efforts, California water usage per person dropped 54%. Texas did even better: at 88 gallons per day, its water usage is 11% lower than the national average.
Texas has always cared about saving water. Walter Prescott Webb, a Texan and historian of the American West, wrote a book called More Water for Texas in 1954 and a widely read article in 1957 entitled “The American West, Perpetual Mirage.” Webb said that the West was “a semi-desert with a desert heart.” He thought that the levels of population growth, agriculture, and industrial development would require more water than what was available. He believed the West could not support growth because water would be too hard to find.
At the time, people disagreed with Webb’s point of view, but his views are now seen as correct. Years of drought in the West have led to rules on water usage. They have also led to advances in technologies designed to conserve water. The future of the world may depend on conservation efforts today.
What can you do to conserve water? Here are some ideas: