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Wading Through the Freshwater Crisis

Updated: May 29, 2020

Freshwater seems so endless when you can simply turn on the tap and use as much as you like. But are we taking too much? Over consumption can come at a premium, but there are ways that you can help!

Fresh water. It’s our wonderfully free, endless resource that we can take advantage of whenever we want, with absolutely no repercussions. At least, this is how the vast majority of us live our lives.

Water is part of a large cycle called the hydrological cycle. Water is transported from clouds, to soil, to groundwater, to lakes and rivers, to oceans and eventually is evaporated back into the atmosphere. Water is a renewable resource, but freshwater is not. Only 2.5% of the world’s water stores are freshwater, and of this, over two-thirds is trapped in snowfields and glaciers.

This is a cause for concern considering the growing needs for our increasing population (Fig. 1); we will likely to use 50% more freshwater over the next 50 years in agriculture alone. An average beef burger patty requires 2350 litres of water; when considering that Americans eat 50 billion each year, the consumption of water starts to accumulate.

It is hypothesised that at our current consumption rates, two-thirds of the world’s population could experience freshwater shortages by 2025. This situation has been dubbed the freshwater crisis. It is becoming increasingly clear that cutting down on water usage where possible is fundamentally imperative if we want to reserve freshwater stocks for future generations.

How to help

Sometimes environmental statistics can be overwhelming, but it’s always important to remember that you don’t have to be a cog in the machine. You can elicit real change. Here are a few ways that you can help with the global water crisis, challenge yourself to incorporate two ideas into your routine for the next month!

Wash your clothes less!

  • Do larger loads of washing and cut down on washing where possible.

  • When you get a stain, rather than washing the whole item, consider spot washing just the affected area.

  • Old washing machines use considerably more water than newer models. If you can, upgrade to a newer model, and be conscious of the Energy star rating when buying. Don’t be afraid of buying second hand! But make sure to ask the seller a lot of questions.

Turn off the tap!

  • When rinsing dishes, put the plug in. If you have two sinks, consider putting a small amount of water in one and using it for rinsing. If not just use a small amount of water to rinse each dish, don’t leave the tap running!

  • When you’re ready to wash, don’t fill the sink up completely, just use what you need.

  • Do fewer dishwashing loads to avoid unnecessarily running multiple sinks of water.

  • Avoid using dishwashers for small loads – hands work perfectly fine!

Turn off the shower!

  • When applying soap or shampoo, switch off the shower.

  • If you have a leaky faucet, make sure to have this fixed as quickly as possible. If a new faucet needs to be purchased, try to research WaterSense labels to ensure minimum water usage.

  • Limit shower usage and shower less often.

What you eat matters!

  • Up to 70% of water usage is directly linked to the agricultural industry. Consider using food from home before it spoils, rather than going out or buying more produce from the supermarket.

  • Consider eating more vegetables. A study in California demonstrated that an additional 10,252 litres of water are required to maintain an animal-based diet in comparison to a plant-based diet. You don’t have to change your entire lifestyle, just consider cutting out meat in your meals a few times a week.

Start your own veggie garden!

  • Gardening is a great way to regulate how much water the produce you’re eating is using. This is an especially good idea if you live in a climate that allows for very little watering.

  • Watch your watering – avoid the use of automated sprinkler systems that are inefficient at watering gardens.


  • Have a bucket handy in the bathroom to put into the shower while you wait for the water to warm up. Use this to water your garden or wash your dishes.

  • Use water from scrubbing/cooking vegetables in the same way (NOTE: only use unseasoned water as saltwater will spoil soil).

  • Where possible, catch rainwater from your roof by catching water coming out of drain pipes. This water is fine for watering gardens but do not drink untreated water.

Avoid pressure washers!

  • When cleaning outside areas consider a broom over a pressure washer or hose. They both use a lot of unnecessary water, cause potentially toxic runoff depending on what is being cleaned and if used with detergent can go on to pollute waterways.

Bengtsson, L. (2009). The global atmospheric water cycle. Environmental Research Letters, 5(2), 1—8. Retrieved from

National Geographic (n.d.). Freshwater crisis. Retrieved March 28, 2020, from

Jury, W. A., & Vaux, H. J. (2007). The emerging global water crisis: Managing scarcity and conflict between water users. Advances in Agronomy, Volume 95, 1—76. Retrieved from

Ercin, A. E., Aldaya, M. M., Hoekstra, A. Y. (2011). The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products. Retrieved March 28, 2020, from

Worldometer (2020). Water use statistics. Retrieved March 28, 2020, from

World Wildlife Fund (n.d.). Water Scarcity. Retrieved March 28, 2020, from

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (n.d.). Managing water sustainably is key to the future of food and agriculture. Retrieved March 28, 2020, from

Marlow, H. J., Harwatt, H., Soret, S., & Sabate, J. (2015). Comparing the water, energy, pesticide and fertilizer usage for the production of foods consumed by different dietary types in California. Public Health and Nutrition, 18(13), 2425—2432. Retrieved from

Printz, L. (2011). High pressure cleaners - can they be sustainable? Retrieved March 28, 2020, from

Danielle is a student at Auckland University of Technology studying a double major in Environmental Science and Applied Conservation. She is a keen hiker that tries to identify every plant along the way. She has been known to make up the names of birds or trees if someone asks and she doesn’t know.

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