The Issues

Growing populations, expanding land-use, industrialization, and high living standards have increased the demand for water, while issues such as climate change, drought, overuse, and pollution, have threatened water quality and decreased supplies. These issues have created problems for humans and wildlife, and have generated concerns regarding resiliency, sustainability, and quality of water resources.

Overuse

Freshwater is a finite resource. Population growth, increased development, and high living standards have put strong pressure on future water supplies. As demand for freshwater increases, efforts are being put forth to conserve water and limit personal and industrial use.

Climate Change

The impacts of climate change on water resources are numerous and varied – main influences will be felt through changing patterns of water availability, with shrinking glaciers and changing patterns of precipitation increasing the likelihood of drought and flood. As average global temperatures continue to rise, other influences will be felt through increased agricultural water demand and changing ecosystem processes. As water bodies become warmer, harmful algal blooms are expected to become greater problem in rivers, lakes and oceans in the US and around the world.

Drought

Drought is characterized by a lack of precipitation—such as rain, snow, or sleet—for a protracted period of time, resulting in a water shortage. While droughts occur naturally, human activity, such as water use and management, can exacerbate dry conditions. Excessive water demand, deforestation, climate change, and soil degradation are just a few of the ways that humans have increased the likelihood and intensity of this costly natural disaster.

Plastics

Plastic is one of the most prevalent pollution items in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Each year, roughly eight million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than one-fifth of an inch across. These so-called micro plastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough.

Pollution

From big pieces of garbage to invisible chemicals, a wide range of pollutants end up in our planet’s lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater—and eventually the oceans. Water pollution—along with drought, inefficiency, and an exploding population—has contributed to a freshwater crisis, threatening the sources upon which we rely for drinking water and other critical needs.

Resiliency

A water utility’s resiliency is it’s ability to provide an uninterrupted supply of safe, clean water. This can be affected by natural occurrences such as earthquakes, drought, and climate change and water quality conditions. As many of these natural disasters are expected to increase with changing climate and human impacts, water suppliers are working to ensure that their supply is resilient and ready for such occurrences.

Surface Runoff

Runoff is a major source of water pollution. As the water runs along an impervious surface, it picks up litter, petroleum, chemicals, fertilizers, and other toxic substances. Toxic runoff can pollute surface waters, like rivers and lakes, as well as seep into underground groundwater supplies. Runoff pollution can be reduced by reducing the use of chemicals such as fertilizers, and decreasing the amount of impervious surface through planting native plants and creating rain gardens.