Saturday, May 22, 2010

3 Big Ideas to Make Water Last

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The “Watershed Moments” article in the Summer 2010, ‘Water Solutions’ issue of YES! Magazine.
Only a tiny fraction of Earth’s water is available as fresh water.
We’re already at the limits of supply in parts of the United States. But even with climate change and growing populations, there’s enough for everyone if we work together to keep it clean, use it wisely, and share it fairly.

3 Big Ideas to Make Water Last, YES! Magazine poster
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Where is our water?

poster_wave.jpg95.7% of the water on earth is salty. 84% of water in the atmosphere comes from the oceans, than falls as rain.

Of the 2.5% of Earth's water that's fresh, about 70% is ice—and inaccessible. [1]

Of the 2.5% of Earth's water that's fresh, about 30% is groundwater. [2]

Of the 2.5% of Earth's water that's fresh, 0.3% is surface water (in lakes, rivers, and wetlands) or water vapor. [3]

Who takes fresh water?

Who Takes Fresh Water?

3 big ideas to make water last


Take care of the ecosystems that supply us.

  • poster_fish.jpgLower CO2: Mountain snowpacks are shrinking because of climate change. About 75% of the water supplies in the western United States come from snowmelt.
  • Restored wetlands: Clean watersheds save cities billions compared to the cost of water purification plants. New York City is saving $6.5 billion by restoring the Catskill-Delaware watershed. [4]
  • Animal engineers: Beaver ponds slow runoff, letting water percolate into aquifers. Prairie dog tunnels help water soak into the ground.
  • Wild rivers: Naturally meandering rivers reduce erosion, create wildlife habitat, and slow flow, allowing surrounding soil to soak up more water.
  • Refilling aquifers: Groundwater is replenished by surface water, but slowly. Parts of the Ogallala Aquifer recharge at a rate between 0.07 and one inch per year.
  • Rain-friendly design: Porous pavement, rain gardens, and swales let rainwater seep into the soil, rather than overwhelming storm drains.

poster_boat.jpgShare it because it belongs to everyone.

  • Organic fertilizers avoid toxic runoff to rivers and keep fish stocks healthy.
  • Clean Water Act: Watchful Waterkeeper programs and community activists use laws to keep industrial neighbors clean.
  • Protect the commons: Clean and wild waterways allow for both healthy wildlife and human recreation.

Learn to live within our water means.

  • poster_island.jpgWind and solar: Solar panels and wind require little water to generate electricity. Thermoelectric is our single biggest water user.
  • Organic farming methods boost the ability of soil to hold water.
  • Drip irrigation saves up to 50% compared to overhead sprinklers. [5]
  • Native plants: We use 9 billion gallons of water a day on lawns and golf courses. Native plants require little irrigation. [6]
  • Low flow: Fixing leaks and installing low-flow fixtures saves 30% or more on household water use.
  • Reuse: Using reclaimed water for irrigation conserves a community’s drinking water. Reclaimed wastewater contains beneficial nitrogen and phosphorus for plants.
  • Save the rain: Annual rainfall on Los Angeles is equal to two-thirds of the water the city uses each year. Waterloo, Ontario, has given out 40,000 rain barrels. It now uses
    12.7 million gallons less water a year. [7,8]

Doug PibelDoug Pibel researched and edited this poster for Water Solutions, the Summer 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Doug is managing editor at YES! Magazine. Research assistance by Berit Anderson, Ashlee Green, and Keith Rutowski.
Illustrations by Alexandre Dumas.


  1. Of the 2.5% of Earth’s water that’s fresh, about 70% is ice—and inaccessible.
    Source: Igor Shiklomanov's chapter "World fresh water resources" in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).

  2. 30.1% of all freshwater is fresh groundwater.

  3. 0.3% or 31,341 trillion gallons are in lakes, rivers and wetlands. Amount also includes water in plants, animals, and the atmosphere. William E. McNulty, NG Staff graphic for April 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine.  From Igor A. Shiklomanov, State Hydrological Institute, Russia; USGS

  4. “New York City was faced with the potentially enormous cost of an artificial water filtration plant, estimated at as much as $6-$8 billion, plus yearly maintenance expenses amounting to $300-$500 million….With vigorous lobbying, they won agreement from federal regulators to try an alternative: rather than pay for the costly new filtration plant, the city would spend the much smaller amount of about $1.5 billion to protect the upstate watershed, by buying land as buffers and upgrading polluting sewage treatment plants, among other tactics….” Gretchen C. Daily and Katherine Ellison, Orion Magazine, Spring 2002,

  5. "Drip irrigation typically saves between 30-50% of water used on crops and orchards."

  6. Lawns: NY State Department of Environmental Conservation,
    Golf: Golf Course Environmental Profile vol.2: Water Use and Conservation Practices on U.S. Golf Courses, Environmental Institute for Golf."

  7. LA Water usage: Los Angeles Urban Water Management Plan, 2005.

  8. Waterloo, Ontario, has given out 40,000 rainbarrels. It now uses 12.7 million gallons less water a year. Personal interview w. Steve Gombos, Manager, Water Efficiency, Region of Waterloo. April 23, 2010.