Water Solutions:


Just the Facts : Water Edition

16 astonishing, sobering, and hopeful water facts.

May 13, 2010

Humans need five to 13 gallons of clean water a day for basic needs. [ 1 ]

60 percent of the world’s fresh water comes from rivers shared by at least two countries. [ 2 ]

Desalination plants produce less than 0.5 percent of the water used in the world. [ 3 ]

90 percent of the ice on Earth is in the Antarctic. [ 4 ]

Lake Mead, Nev., has a $1 billion a year tourism and recreation industry. There’s a 50-50 chance the lake will be dry by 2050. [ 5 ]

Water managers in 36 states expect shortages by 2013. [ 6 ]

As of 2009, 832 dams had been removed from U.S. rivers. [ 7 ]

Almost 20 percent of the world’s people live in areas where water is scarce. [ 8 ]

84 percent of North America’s surface fresh water is in the Great Lakes. [ 9 ]

One quart of used motor oil can contaminate 250,000 gallons of water. [ 10 ]

Putting water in plastic bottles and shipping it just 125 miles uses 1,100 times more energy than producing tap water. [ 11 ]

A 1 percent increase in organic matter allows soil to hold 16,000 more gallons of water per acre. [ 12 ]

30 percent of U.S. groundwater used for crop irrigation comes from the Ogallala aquifer, which runs under parts of eight states. [ 13 ]

New York City uses about 30 percent less water than it did in 1979, although its population has grown by 1 million. [ 14 ]

Each day, a U.S. household uses about 400 gallons of water. You can save more than that by skipping one quarter-pound hamburger. [ 15 ]

In Arizona, uncovered swimming pools lose 4 to 6 feet of water a year to evaporation. There are 300,000 pools in Phoenix. [ 16 ]


  1. “To ensure our basic needs, we all need 20 to 50 liters of water free from harmful contaminants each and every day.” Source: Meeting Basic Needs, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization,

  2. “60% of world’s fresh water comes from rivers shared by at least two countries.” Source: Atlas of International Freshwater Agreements, Meredith A. Giordano and Aaron T. Wolf, 2002,

  3. “Currently, the roughly 15,000 desalination plants worldwide have the capacity to produce 540.3 billion cubic feet (15.3 billion cubic meters) of water per year—less than 0.5 percent of global water demand.” Source:

  4. Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change, U.S. Geological Survey, May 1, 2007,

  5. “Nevada: Assessing the Costs of Climate Change,” National Conference of State Legislatures, 2008

  6. Water managers in 36 states expect shortages by 2013 Alter, Alexandra, Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2009,

  7. Personal communication with Serena S. McClain, Associate Director, River Restoration Program, American Rivers

  8. “10 Facts About Water Scarcity,” World Health Organization

  9. Discover Magazine, June 2006,

  10. Discover Magazine, June 2006,

  11. United States Government Accountability Office, Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections Are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water, June 2009,

  12. “Drought Resistant Soil,” Preston Sullivan, NCAT Agriculture Specialist, ATTRA Publication #IP169, 2002.

  13. “The High Plains Aquifer, USA: Groundwater Development and Sustainability,” Kevin F. Dennehy, USGS, 2002.

  14. Personal communication, Mercedes Padilla of NYC department of environmental protection, 04/15/10

  15. 400 gallons, quarter pound of beef: EPA WaterSense, /pubs/indoor.html; A.Y. Hoekstra & A. K. Chapagain, Water footprints of nations: Water use by people as a function of their consumption pattern, SpringerScience + Business Media B.V. 2006

  16. Phoenix pools: Arroyo 2010, Water Resources Research Center, The University of Arizona. Number of pools in Phoenix: “Backyard retreats suck water, energy,” Betty Beard, The Arizona Republic, July 16, 2007

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Summer 2010

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