"All things are water."-- Plutarch
We live in a water planet. Anyone who has spun a globe or seen a satellite view of Earth knows that our planet is coated in blue. But all that blue can be deceiving—it can lead to use fresh water to the point of wasting because we assume there will always be enough to go around. The truth is, 70% of the earth is covered in water, but only 3% is fresh and drinkable. 80% of the 3% is frozen on polar ice caps and glaciers, leaving us with access to only 1% of our planet's fresh water.
Where does fresh water come from and why is it limited?
The Hydrologic Cycle—Mother Nature’s filtration process
- Evaporation—when water turns from a liquid to a gas
Ever wonder where the puddle vanishes to when the sun shines? When the sun warms the water, it turns to vapor and rises. The sticky sensation you feel on humid days is water vapor on the rise. Water evaporates from bodies of water and from plant roots through tiny holes in their leaves during transpiration.
Evaporation acts as a natural filter or distiller. Any particle that attaches itself to a water molecule is called a solvent. When water evaporates, these particles cannot turn to steam and are left behind.
- Condensation—when water turns from a gas to a liquid
When water vapor enters the atmosphere, it cools, condenses, and turns back into drops of liquid that form clouds. You’ve likely observed the condensation process on your cold beverage on a hot day.
- Precipitation—when water falls to earth
The water drops in the atmosphere expand. When they get heavy, they fall back to earth as rain, hail, sleet, or snow. Some of the water evaporates again, and the cycle continues.
Not all precipitation evaporates again, so where does the rest of the water go?
- Water enters ponds and lakes, and some runs to streams and rivers and some flows to oceans.
- Water seeps into the soil and openings in the earth’s surface through infiltration.
- Water freezes as glaciers and ice caps.
We get our water from one of two natural sources:
- Groundwater includes water from natural springs and wells. Well water is collected from aquifers, or pockets in the ground that contain fresh water.
- Surface water includes water from streams, oceans, lakes, etc.
The hydrologic cycle and the amount of water on earth have remained the same since dinosaurs walked the earth. So, why is fresh water a limited resource?
In 2006, water consumption increased by 127% from 1950. Thanks to conservation efforts and more efficient technology in the United States, water use in America has been in decline since then, but water all around the world is finite and conservation remains crucial.
Freshwater is limited by high demand.
Humans make the water recycling process difficult for Mother Nature to keep up with. As population and industries grow, the demand for water becomes too high, which results in water scarcity. The cycle between water use and waste treatment shortens the more water we use. The faster we use water, the faster we must recycle it.
Right now, waste treatment plants send drainage back into lakes and streams the hydrologic cycle to take care of. We may not always have such a luxury. If we are not careful with our planet’s resources, nature will not be able to clean the water as quickly as we drain it.
Freshwater is limited by climate.
Climate change may disrupt the cycle and alter the balance of water so vital to sustaining life. As temperatures increase, so does evaporation, which increases the possibility of droughts. Droughts lead to less drinking water and agricultural produce. Rising temperatures also melt ice caps and send saltwater into underground supplies of fresh water. Heavy rainstorms increase pollution by washing trash and harmful contaminants into the fresh water supply.
Freshwater is limited by pollution.
Water pollution affects humans as well as plants and marine life. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3.4 million people die each year from waterborne diseases. Below are the primary sources of water pollution.
- Industrial waste—chemicals, toxins, garbage
- Agricultural waste—chemical fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste
- Sewage—human waste, trash
- Pharmaceuticals—drugs flushed into the water supply
- Oil spills—emptied from oil tankers into lakes, oceans, and rivers
- Precipitation—pollution in air seeping into the soil
- Natural causes—landslides, erosion, floods
- Corrosion— deterioration of plumbing pipes
- Water additives— byproducts of drinking water disinfection
- Plastic—water bottles, grocery bags, trash
How do we get usable water?
Water from the sky is high quality, but it gets messed up as it falls. When water seeps into the ground, it irrigates the soil and flows into lakes and streams. As it comes through the soil, it picks up minerals that can make water hard, acidic, and foul-tasting—in other words, unusable. This is where we step in to help you and Mother Nature out.
Cities rely on municipal plants to provide safe water, but just because your water is safe, it does not mean that it tastes good. Safe water can be nasty depending on what it has picked up while traveling through the pipes, so we improve it. Filters act as a screen door to protect against any unwelcome particles and contaminants. Using water treatment systems takes some of the burden from water recycling and waste treatment processes.
We create usable water.
Our job at Fresh Water Systems is to make water consumable and recyclable. 70% of your body is made up of water, so that water needs to be high-quality, or your body is going to suffer. This makes our responsibility incredibly important. We don’t supply gaming systems or leather couches, but fresh water, a limited resource that no one can live without.
Test Your Knowledge:
How much drinkable water exists on our planet?
1%. Even though 3% of the water on earth is safe to drink, most of it is frozen on glaciers and polar ice caps.
How does the hydrologic cycle act as a water filter?
When water is heated by the sun, it vaporizes and leaves behind the contaminants like a distiller.
What happens to water during the three steps in the hydrologic cycle?
First, water evaporates, or rises and turns to a vapor. Then, it cools and returns to a liquid in condensation. Finally, water falls back to earth as precipitation.
What is transpiration?
When water evaporates from plant roots through tiny holes in their leaves
What do we call a particle that attaches itself to a water molecule?
What is infiltration?
When water seeps through openings in the earth’s surface
Fresh water comes from what two natural sources?
Ground water and surface water
What is a pocket in the ground that collects fresh water?
In what three ways is fresh water limited?
By high demand, climate, and pollution
What makes water scarce?
When the demand for water exceeds the supply
Name two ways climate limits fresh water.
Rising temperatures, droughts, or heavy rainstorms
Name five sources of water pollution.
Industrial waste, agricultural waste, sewage, pharmaceuticals, oil spills, precipitation, natural causes, corrosion, water additives, or plastic
What makes water unusable?
When water travels through soil and pipes, it picks up particles and contaminants that make water hard and nasty.
 Clift, Jon, and Amanda Cuthbert. Water (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2006), 9.