We have dramatically changed Earth’s water cycle, significantly altering the amount, timing, and quality of freshwater flowing across Earth’s continents to the sea. Until recently, Earth’s water flowed naturally, uninterrupted and without pollution, through river networks and groundwater systems connecting land to ocean. Now, humans operate tens of thousands of dams as well as countless wells that extract water from aquifers. These practices allow us to divert and extract massive amounts of water from their natural flows. This extraction often exceeds nature’s ability to replenish water, leaving behind dried-up aquifers, rivers, and lakes in their wake. This often causes collapsed fisheries and widespread ecological devastation.
How do we shrink our water footprint? The vast majority of the world’s water withdrawals (about 70 percent) are used for growing food and animal feed, so reducing food waste and changing our diets are great steps in the right direction. Another major way we indirectly consume water is through all of the things we purchase—including new phones, clothes, disposable cups, water bottles, and more. While it’s difficult to control the water used to grow our food and make our stuff, we can think about reducing how much we buy. And we can take important steps to directly reduce the water we use in our homes and yards.
Lawns and landscaping are among the biggest users of water in our homes. To save water, replace lawns with drought-friendly plants, use garden mulches to reduce evaporation, and install drip irrigation to get water exactly where you need it.
We may not realize how much water we lose from a dripping faucet, a slowly leaking toilet, or an old, trickling garden hose. Check for leaks and fix them as soon as possible.
When updating kitchens and bathrooms, choose water-wise appliances that can save enormous amounts of water. Invest in water-saving toilets (1.28 gallons or less per flush), low-flow showerheads (less than 2.5 gallons-per-minute), and more efficient washing machines and dishwashers.