“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” — Sylvia Earle, Marine Biologist
Water is life. Yet clean, safe drinking water is a scarce resource under great strain for large populations across the world. Even though it is considered a renewable resource, we are extracting and polluting water at such an alarmingly high rate that the water supply is not able to replenish or sustain itself.
Water covers 70% of our planet, though only 2.5% of it is freshwater. Of that 2.5%, only 1.5% is on the surface and able to support life. With that tiny percentage available, the strain on global freshwater supply is intensified by the uncertainties of climate change and pollution. Extreme weather patterns, including droughts and floods mean billions of people are at risk of water insecurity: not having enough clean water to drink, farm, and maintain hygiene. Today, over 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate water sanitation and 4 billion suffer from water scarcity. This all happens while pollution continues to fill our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.
Water pollution occurs when harmful chemicals or microorganisms contaminate a body of water, rendering it toxic and harmful to humans. Pesticides, fertilizer run off, industrial and sewage pollution, and farming are common water pollutants. Additionally, unregulated urbanization, population increase, climate change and massive demand for water in sectors like agriculture, urban development and industrialization contribute to water scarcity.
Low income communities of color are disproportionately at risk because of proximity to polluting industries. In 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan switched its water supply to the local Flint River, which is contaminated with sewage, agriculture and urban runoff, and toxins from leaching landfills. The river also has increased lead concentrations, which is linked to serious negative health implications, including cognitive and developmental issues in children, and even caused an outbreak of Legionnaires Disease, a severe form of pneumonia. A Latino community in East Orosi, California has been fighting for 10 years for clean drinking water, because of high nitrate concentrations due to chemical fertilizers. These are but two examples of environmental injustices facing largely BIPOC communities fighting for clean water here in the United States.
In this country and around the world, clean, safe drinking water means hope. Our partner Numi Tea underscores with its non-profit program H2OPE, bringing that to global farming communities through new or repaired water and sewage infrastructure, wells, sanitation, and community-led education, focused on maintaining long-term water access for future generations. Positive change is possible, as Numi shows through its impactful work with tea farmers and families in Madagascar, India, South Africa and beyond. We can (and must!) all take action near and far.
Pollution is only one aspect of Earth’s water problem. Humans use an enormous amount of water, with Americans averaging 322 billion gallons of water per day. This number is the average “water footprint” in the USA. What’s tricky is that most water consumption is hidden or used indirectly in producing goods and services like food, clothing, and electricity.
Consider a factory-farmed burger. You may only drink one glass of water with the burger, but what hides behind your meal are the 660 gallons of water used to raise and feed the cow. The water footprint is even higher if you add cheese, as a pound of cheese requires 382 gallons to produce.
It is also important to consider how water is transported from source to consumer. While water is essential, single-use packaging is NOT, yet 1 million single-use plastic bottles are sold worldwide every minute. Even when plastic bottles do make their way to a recycling bin, only 9% of plastic is actually recycled, and the vast majority of plastic bottles end up in waterways, polluting oceans and harming ecosystems.
We should all Question How You Hydrate, as our nonprofit partner, Lonely Whale, encourages us to do with tools for addressing plastic bottle overuse in the name of ‘convenience,’ contributing to the estimated 5 trillion plastic pieces currently in the ocean. Alternatives to single-use plastic, like safe and reusable metal water bottles (by Klean Kanteen and others) reduce waste and save money. Before filling up, be sure to check if drinking water is safe with EWG’s Tap Water database!
Overall, try opting for fewer products with large hidden water footprints and do everything you can to safeguard and conserve this finite resource upon which life and society are built.
Only 1.5% of freshwater is able to support life on Earth. As water demand increases and supply dwindles, the pressure for sustainable management falls on us. This means we must engage in water-conscious consumer practices wherever and whenever possible, including with our hidden (indirect or “virtual”) water footprint, which makes up 96% of total water use.
Do you have any idea how much water you use daily? Think about food, bathing, hydration, clothing, dishwashing, all of it.
Write down an estimate of how much water you think you use per day. Now, it’s time to calculate. Use this Water Footprint Calculator to find out how much water you actually use directly and indirectly each day.
Upload a PDF with your responses. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Indirect water consumption, or the amount of water needed to produce the goods we use, makes up the majority of our water footprint. You may be surprised just how much it adds up to with everything from growing the food you crave to your very favorite jeans. Many products, goods, and services may have a heavier burden than you think.
Choose three items you use/consume/wear daily. Consider food, technology, clothing, transportation, etc. Research and find the estimated water footprint of each. Today’s infographic may be helpful in your research.
Reflect on your research and briefly answer the following:
Next, take all of the information that you learned and want to share to create an infographic, educating about the water footprint of one item you use in daily life. Upload this on Instagram with a great caption and tag @TurningGreenOrg in both the image and caption, as well as using #PGC2020.
Upload a PDF with your responses and a screenshot of your social media post. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address and school.
Every person is guaranteed the right to clean water under international law and United Nations declarations, though throughout the US and world, this right is still far from guaranteed. More than 30 million Americans lived in areas where water systems violated safety rules at the beginning of last year, according to data from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). 844 million global citizens lacked access to clean water last year, many due to agricultural runoff, industrial and sewage pollution, and farm waste. Let that sink in. As with most environmental and climate issues, people in low income, BIPOC, and rural communities are disproportionately affected by water pollution. We cannot stand silently, while injustices persist — and are inspired by the actions of many, including our partner Numi’s work with H2OPE worldwide.
Take in the full picture of what water injustice looks like.
Read this article about the Flint Water Crisis, underscoring how water pollution disproportionately affects BIPOC and rural communities. And this one about how Delhi, India is dealing with industrial pollutants contaminating its water supply.
Now it’s time for you to take a stand. Read this piece to learn more about communities that lack access to clean water. Think about water quality issues where you live. Is there a community fighting for clean water nearby? Sadly, the answer will be yes, as this crisis is tragically and inexcusably universal.
Upload a PDF with each of your responses, visuals, and a screenshot of your social media post. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address and school.
Up to 10 Greener and 10 Greenest outstanding submissions will be selected as winners.