Even though 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, a mere three percent of this is fresh water. The other 97 percent is salt water. It may sound trite, but sometimes it’s easy to forget water is a scarce commodity in many parts of the world. Most Americans have instant access to water anytime they turn on the tap. Yet, have you ever stopped to wonder where the water you get from your tap comes from?
Fresh water comes from a variety of sources. Just the answer you were looking for, right? In all honesty though, your source of fresh water depends on where you live and the quality of water in your area. Here’s an interesting fact: Compared to other developed countries, the U.S. has the lowest burden for water/wastewater bills.
Ground water, surface water, and frozen water are the main three sources of fresh water. Some areas of the U.S. (Calif., Texas, Arizona, etc.) must have their water piped in from other states. In fact, “there are approximately one million miles of water pipeline and aqueducts in the United States and Canada, [which is] enough to circle Earth 40 times.” Crazy!
Surface water includes any water from rivers, lakes, or fresh water wetlands. These sources of fresh water make up only 0.3 percent of the world’s fresh water, which is insane because most rivers are so HUGE. It’s sort of like trying to understand the size of the known universe. Mind bending, right?
Water from these sources is “naturally replenished by precipitation.” They’re also “naturally lost through discharge to the oceans, evaporation, evapotranspiration and sub-surface seepage.” Say what? Things are definitely starting to sound a bit technical. Let’s see if we can explain this in a non-scientific manner. Wish us luck!
Water that seeps into the earth is known as groundwater. It’s a “life-sustaining resource that supplies water to billions of people, plays a central part in irrigated agriculture and influences the health of many ecosystems.” This water is typically stored in aquifers, which are “areas of soil, sand and rock that are capable of holding liquid.” The water from these aquifers “sits between particles or in cracks and fissures.” These types of “saturated underground areas – some replenished by rain and snow, others not – can be found close to the Earth’s surface or hundreds of feet underground.”
Much of this underground water “makes its way into lakes and rivers and is often tapped by wells for drinking and irrigation supply.” In fact, “nearly 50 percent of people living in the U.S. get their drinking water from groundwater.” Yet, the biggest use for groundwater is as irrigation.
According to the National Geographic, “threats to this underground source increase as population and development accelerate. Agricultural and urban runoff tainted with chemical pesticides and fertilizers seeps into groundwater sources, as does gas from leaking underground tanks.” One of the biggest threats to groundwater is overtapping since it’s a limited resource.
Even though fresh water is a renewable resource, the world’s supply of groundwater is steadily decreasing. In a study published by Nature, it was determined “humans are overexploiting groundwater in many large aquifers that are critical to agriculture, especially in Asia and North America.” Researchers estimated “the size of the global groundwater footprint is currently about 3.5 times the actual area of aquifers and that about 1.7 billion people live in areas where groundwater resources and/or groundwater-dependent ecosystems are under threat.”
Last, but not least, the majority of Earth’s fresh water is frozen solid. Icebergs and glaciers are a few of the main sources of frozen water scattered across the world. Learn more about our frozen supply of fresh water at the U.S. Geological Survey’s website.
Your Fresh Water Source
Now that you’ve learned a little bit about sources of fresh water, it’s time learn more about your drinking water. The best way to learn about your drinking water is to contact your local utility company. They’ll be able to tell you about the source of the water your family drinks and how it’s treated. You could also read the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Water on Tap publication to learn about drinking water safety and more. If you’d like to learn more about how to protect your drinking water, check out our quick guide.