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The Growing Blue® Tool

Flags represent country populations exposed to Water Scarcity (Water Stress Level >40%)
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Water Stress Index

Water Availability

Sustainability Variability Quality

Water Use

Municipal Agricultural Industrial
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Global – Water Stress Level

The indicators of water stress rely on the ratio of water withdrawal to hydrological availability, along with a variation factor to account for variability of precipitation.

There’s a tremendous amount of water on the earth, but for it to continue to be a reliable supply for future growth, it must be available to local populations in sufficient quantity and quality, and without compromising local ecosystems.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in most of the world, as water is unevenly distributed among the world’s population. Today more than one billion people lack access to safe, clean drinking water, and just 10 countries share 60 percent of the world’s natural, renewable water resources.

Keeping existing water supplies healthy and sustainable is therefore critically important. The red areas on the map above indicate areas that are already water stressed. Other colors show areas that are on the brink.

While the quantity of water on the earth is the same today as it has always been, less than one percent of this water is available for human use. The rest is frozen in polar ice caps or present in the ocean’s salty waters. The earth’s small portion of usable water is found in groundwater sources and in surface water, such as rivers, lakes and streams.

Using and returning water to these sources is critical to maintaining them for future generations.

Health Issues Due to Arsenic in Groundwater

Health Issues Due to Arsenic Groundwater

In Bangladesh, an impoverished South Asian country, 24 million people have potentially been exposed to arsenic, with another 75 million at risk, due to contaminated groundwater.

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Uk's Responsibility Towards Water Use at a Global Scale

UK’s Responsibility Towards Water Resource Use at the Global Scale

Some experts argue that national water stewardship responsibilities should be determined by each country’s entire consumption footprint.

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Global – Sustainability

There is a limit to the amount of water we can sustainably use – and today many water withdrawals are not sustainable. As this map shows, too often there is an imbalance between the water we withdraw from the ground and the water we return to the earth. Our water resource challenges can only be met if we adopt both short and long-term water resource management plans combined with appropriate governance.

Doing so is a shared responsibility, and it begins with better managing water withdrawals. Today, roughly 15 to 35 percent of irrigation withdrawals are estimated to be unsustainable – and this is true globally. In Europe alone, 60 percent of cities with more than 100,000 people are using groundwater sources faster than they can be replenished.

Current practices will not be able to meet growing population and rising energy demand, and as a result, fossil aquifers will no longer be a long-term, viable option. We simply won’t be able to recharge them quickly enough.

West Africa's Lake Chad

West Africa’s Lake Chad

Lake Chad, a critical regional water resource, shrunk by 95 percent between 1963 and 1998, leading the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to call it an “ecological catastrophe.”

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Drip Irrigation and Water Resource Management

Drip Irrigation and Water Reuse

78 percent of Israel’s arable land is under cultivation, and 50 percent of that land is dependent on irrigation, making water management a top priority.

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Global – Variability

Communities that cannot guarantee a reliable supply of water create a business risk to companies looking to build and invest in locations with reliable water supplies. Abnormal rain events, the lack of proper storage infrastructure and climate change all contribute to fluctuations in the local water supply, which can create uncertainty if not properly managed.

The map above shows the prevalence of abnormal rain events around the world, giving an estimate of the relative deficit or surplus precipitation over a 12 month time period. These types of events contribute to the natural variability of water, both year-to-year and within a single year. For example, the average amount of water available per person in some areas of the Middle East varies from less than 1,700 cubic feet per year, to over 3.5 million in humid, sparsely populated portions of the region. Climate change will only exacerbate these dramatic swings. In fact, current temperature, weather, sea level and water variability projections suggest that the next 30 to 50 years will bring substantial population displacements as a result.

Drip Irrigation and Water Reuse

78 percent of Israel’s arable land is under cultivation, and 50 percent of that land is dependent on irrigation, making water management a top priority.

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West Africa’s Lake Chad

Lake Chad, a critical regional water resource, shrunk by 95 percent between 1963 and 1998, leading the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to call it an “ecological catastrophe.”

Learn more >>

Global – Quality

Polluted water impedes growth in a number of ways. First, it impacts public health, constricting human development and ultimately, GDP. Second, polluted water impacts the agricultural sector we rely on to feed the population. Third, it limits the available water necessary to support business and industry. Lastly, the water cycle rejects polluted water, which is directly linked to the water resources that are available for use at the end of each cycle.

Water resources are defined in terms of quantity and quality. We can’t do very much to impact quantity, but water quality is very much in our control – and it impacts quantity as well. Consider this: The causes of freshwater pollution are varied. They include industrial waste, sewage, and run-off from farms, cities and factory effluents, all of which are manmade impacts. Treating a high quantity, but impaired, water resource is not practical if doing so is expensive or energy-intensive.

In many areas, combined sewer systems collect sanitary sewage and storm water runoff in a single pipe system. This can cause serious water pollution problems when large variations in flow between dry and wet weather cause the system to overflow. In the instance of an overflow, the system’s wastewater and storm water are discharged directly into a nearby river, stream, lake or ocean, thereby polluting it. For good reason, this type of sewer design is no longer used in building new communities, but many older cities still continue to use them.

In other areas, water pollution impacts more than just the ecosystem, as the map above shows. In fact, around the world, more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war. Inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene are estimated to cause approximately 3.1 percent of all deaths each year. While we are making progress as a global community to reverse these trends, much more remains to be done.

Arsenic in Ground Water

Health Issues Due to Arsenic Groundwater

In Bangladesh, an impoverished South Asian country, 24 million people have potentially been exposed to arsenic, with another 75 million at risk, due to contaminated groundwater.

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Responsible Water Management at Global Scale

UK’s Responsibility Towards Water Resource Use at the Global Scale

Some experts argue that national water stewardship responsibilities should be determined by each country’s entire consumption footprint.

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Global – Water Use – Municipal

Cities and people both need water and sanitation to grow and thrive. As the number of people living in cities and towns grows, leaders must confront increasingly difficult supply and treatment challenges. Cities put more stress on water resources because they create more challenging conditions for water infrastructure. More people depend on city systems, creating greater peaks and valleys in demand. Further, cities have more concentrated pollution levels than less populated areas, and the wastewater concentrations can require significant investment.

For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities and this number is expected to grow. Meeting the increased strains on water and wastewater infrastructure will be critical to maintaining a healthy future for the world’s rapidly-growing population.

The map above shows total municipal water withdrawals per capita. Municipal water withdrawals can indicate many things, including the level of sustainable water planning, the amount of industry and agriculture in a given area, a country’s growth trajectory, and its total population. For example, in 60 percent of European cities with more than 100,000 people, groundwater is being used faster than it can be replenished. The remaining water is more costly to capture and to treat.

Our cities must reflect the world’s changing realities, and our infrastructure must reflect the new needs emerging in the 21st century and beyond.

NEWater in Singapore

Despite what appears to be a flourishing wet ecosystem, Singapore has faced persistent water shortages throughout its history. So Singapore instituted a water reclamation study to identify viable options to meet long-term water needs.

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Water Agencies Having an Impact in France

Even though France is considered a water-rich country, high-quality water resources are unevenly distributed from region to region. Managing this uneven water distribution requires smart management.

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Global – Water Use – Agriculture

When countries trade crops, they also trade the water used to grow them. This is an economic concept known as “embedded water,” and it greatly affects the way water-poor countries receive water. As with all trade negotiations, some countries are net-importers and some are net-exporters, with trade balances between them. Countries with limited water resources may tend to import agricultural products requiring large amounts of water, as the map above depicts.

Today, agriculture withdrawals represent 70 percent of all water withdrawals worldwide. In many developing countries, irrigation accounts for over 90 percent of all water withdrawals. Yet in high-income countries, industry takes the greatest share of water withdrawals, with 59 percent.

Growing water withdrawals related to agriculture are not just a reflection of a growing population. They’re reflective of a growing consumer class, as wealthy consumers traditionally consume a more meat-intensive diet – and meat is more water-intensive to produce than crops.

In fact, meat production requires eight to 10 times more water than cereals. It takes more than 250 gallons of evapotranspiration per day to produce one pound of wheat, but up to 2,600 gallons per day to produce a pound of meat. As a result, countries like China, where diets are changing, will experience higher water stress levels in the future.

Drip Irrigation and Water Reuse

Seventy-eight percent of Israel’s arable land is under cultivation, and 50 percent of that land is dependent on irrigation, making water management a top priority.

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NEWater in Singapore

Despite what appears to be a flourishing wet ecosystem, Singapore has faced persistent water shortages throughout its history. So Singapore instituted a water reclamation study to identify viable options to meet long-term water needs.

Learn more >>

Global – Water Use – Industrial

Industrial water use varies by country and by region. When water is available and accessible, industries thrive and economies grow. When it’s not, they don’t. Some industries (energy, oil and gas, chemical, pulp and paper) are more water-intensive than others, but all industries require water – even those centered on the Internet.

The map above shows the percentage of water used for industrial purposes, on a country by country basis. Industry uses the most water in developed countries and is second in developing ones. Country by country industrial water use increases with income. In low-income countries, use hovers at around 10 percent. In high-income countries, it’s as high as 59 percent.

One number traditionally used to represent water use is the “water footprint.” The water footprint indicates the total water used to make a product. Globally, the average water footprint for one dollar of consumer products is 21 gallons. This number represents water used as energy, as a cooling agent, as process water, as water embedded in the product or as a medium for waste disposal. Of all these, wastewater discharge and pollution actually pose the greatest threat to water resources, greater than the water used in production.

As people become wealthier they traditionally use more energy and consume more products – creating even greater impact on the world’s water resources. Planning for the world’s growth and economic expansion requires that we think about sustainable water planning now.

NEWater in Singapore

Despite what appears to be a flourishing wet ecosystem, Singapore has faced persistent water shortages throughout its history. So Singapore instituted a water reclamation study to identify viable options to meet long-term water needs.

Learn more >>

US – Water Stress Level

The indicators of water stress rely on the ratio of water withdrawal to hydrological availability, along with a variation factor to account for variability of precipitation.

The United States is not immune to the water challenges facing the rest of the world, and the U.S. deals with the same issues of scarcity, quality, variability and access. This is especially true in the southwestern states, increasing dramatically in California, Utah and Arizona.

Like the rest of the world, the U.S. must also deal with a growing population that is putting additional stress on its water resources. And without proper water management, the country faces the same obstacles to economic growth as other countries.

WATER AVAILABILITY

We need water to grow, but water can’t be used if it isn’t available. Water is distributed unevenly across the globe. In the U.S., regional differences are extreme, and in many areas, access to water is a challenge – an expensive challenge. The western portion of the country is very dry, which means the agricultural industry there has different needs than the rest of the country. By way of contrast, areas such as the Pacific Northwest are perennially rainy.

Further, in the United States the number of people moving to the South and Southwest is growing. As the population moves to cities and to drier climates, the country’s challenges will continue, further straining the country’s already strained infrastructure. Population increases, greater demand for agricultural irrigation and climate change will further impact water availability.

WATER USE

Economic and social growth is largely driven by the productive use of water. To be sustainable, water withdrawals must be met with better water management and increased replenishment efforts. This is one of the most important ways economic growth can be preserved and promoted.

These important facts are worth considering:

    • Between 1950 and 1975, total water withdrawals more than doubled and have continued at increased levels ever since.
    • From 1950 to 1975, the U.S. population increased by 40 percent. But by 2005, the population was 100 percent larger than in 1950.
    • Between 2000 and 2005 alone, total withdrawals were at their largest since the 1975 to 1980 time period – during which water use was believed to have peaked.
    • More than one-fourth of the total water used in the United States in 2005 was withdrawn in California, Texas, Idaho and Florida.
    • California alone accounted for 11 percent of all withdrawals that year.
    • A full three-fourths of California’s withdrawals were for irrigation purposes.

The Value of Water in the U.S.

A nationwide poll released in November 2010 showcased the importance Americans place on fixing the nation’s rapidly deteriorating water infrastructure.

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The Army Corps of Engineers’ National Report

There are specific steps that the U.S. government could take to support state and regional water management efforts, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report issued in January 2010.

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US – Sustainability

Originating from rain or snow, available precipitation refers to water that is actually usable.

Today, many of the United States’ fresh water aquifers are either stressed or negatively impacted by over pumping. Still, others are impacted by intrusion from salt water. As an example, in Houston, extensive pumpage of ground water to support economic and population growth has caused water level declines of approximately 400 feet and resulted in subsidence.

The country’s growth depends on using its water resources in sustainable ways – ways that preserve a supply necessary for sustaining quality of life, economic investment and ecosystem health. Of course, conservation is a critical component of sustainable water management, and a responsibility of both industries and municipalities. Both play a role in minimizing the per capita water impact.

On the whole, sustainable water management involves meeting the needs of today’s population while taking into account the needs of future generations. It’s about more than measurement and observation; it’s about providing guidance for the individuals and institutions that rely on water, those that resolve conflicts around water or those that make decisions about its use. Sustainable water management involves optimizing the water cycle and understanding that our environment, our infrastructure, our water resources and our use of water are all connected.

Today, humans influence the water cycle tremendously – be it quantitatively, by using a larger-than-sustainable share of the water available to us; or qualitatively, by allowing pollution to change the quality of available water. Each year, we withdraw eight percent of the total renewable freshwater, and we appropriate 26 percent of the evapotranspiration and 54 percent of the accessible runoff. Around the world, these numbers are increasing.

The more we use water, the more we influence its quality. When we use water for agriculture, pesticides and the nutrients from fertilizers are carried directly into aquatic ecosystems. When we use water to support sanitation systems, waste and chemical substances enter ecosystems. The same is true when we use water for industrial purposes and pollutants make their way into the cycle. Every day, some two million tons of waste are disposed of in our waters.

On a local level, water cycles are also influenced by the way we plan our cities. When we pave large swaths of land, we shrink the surface area in which water can soak into the soil. Instead, the water runs off of these hard surfaces into pipes that carry it into streams or watersheds, sweeping chemicals and road pollutants with them as they go. The result is that streams carry less water naturally and dry up when it’s not raining or flood when it does.

The High Plains Aquifer

In the United States, the situation in the High Plains provides a precautionary lesson about the need to effectively manage water aquifers.

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The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) was formed to restore the Everglades through smarter water management.

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US – Variability

When the supply of water is not reliable, it creates uncertainty, and thus creates business risk for companies looking to locate in these regions. Unfortunately, if we continue down our current path, the problems of an unreliable water supply are expected to worsen, not to get better.

Variability is caused by a variety of factors. One of them is climate change, which is greatly exacerbating water variability. In recent years, a much greater than normal portion of total annual precipitation has come from extreme single day precipitation events. This means that instead of rainfall being spread out across a long period, it’s happening all at once.

Extreme One-Day Precipitation Events in US, 1910-2008

These are not useful events, as the extreme inundation becomes runoff rather than groundwater. An examination of extreme rain events from 1910 to 2008 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a 50 percent increase in the percentage of U.S. land area affected by these dramatic events.

This trend is especially apparent when looking at areas along the Gulf of Mexico, where projected precipitation changes show potential decreases of more than an inch per year, while in the Northeast, projections are calling for increases of two to four inches per year.

Climate change will continue to affect variability as extreme rain events, intensifying droughts and increasing evaporation continue.

The Major Challenge of a Deteriorating Infrastructure in the U.S.

America’s water infrastructure is rapidly aging, with much of it considered at the end of its useful life. Given this situation, federal funding for water infrastructure improvements is critical.

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A Three-State Competition for Water and Growth

Alabama, Florida and Georgia are in the midst of a courtroom battle over rights to the area’s water supplies.

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US – Quality

Despite living in the world’s leading economy, a surprising percentage of the American population is affected by water quality issues, as can be seen in the map above, which shows the number of Americans impacted by drinking water quality violations or EPA consent orders.

Just as impactful, in a recent multi-part series on the national water quality challenges titled “Toxic Waters,” The New York Times reported that more than 20 percent of the nation’s water systems violated key aspects of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last five years. In the same time frame, American cities violated the Clean Water Act more than half a million times.

The Times’ series also examined the high costs associated with improving our sewer and water systems, the daunting task before regulators in keeping chemicals and contaminants from our drinking water, the limitations of current water policies, and the many ways Americans are impacted by the combined deficiencies in water policy, investment and infrastructure.

Additionally, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual scorecard of U.S. infrastructure, the quality of U.S. drinking water infrastructure ranks as a “D-minus” and wastewater infrastructure ranks as a “D.” Even in the U.S., there is much to be done to plan for a sustainable future for coming generations.

Fresh Water in New York City

Freshwater for the Big Apple

The New York City water supply system requires expensive filtration, but the city averted an $8 billion dollar cost through cooperation and collaboration.

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Water Shortages in the Great Lakes Area

In the Great Lakes Basin, water is not always available, even when it’s abundant.

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US – Water Use – Municipal

Water withdrawals are on the rise across the country. The greatest withdrawals are in arid regions, as the map above shows. This growing demand for water is straining an already stressed infrastructure and limited water resources. As the population grows and more people move to cities, this problem is expected to grow.

As one might imagine, the more arid the region, the more water is used by individuals throughout their everyday lives. As a result, domestic water deliveries vary wildly from state to state, ranging from 51 gallons per person per day in Maine to nearly 190 gallons per day in Nevada. In 2005, two-thirds of all the water withdrawn to meet this demand came from surface sources, such as lakes and streams. The other third came from groundwater supplies.

As we put more pressure on our water resources and infrastructure, we will continue to confront supply and treatment issues simultaneously. Addressing these issues swiftly and successfully is critically important to future growth.

Water Reuse in Orange County

Faced with declining freshwater resources, California’s Orange County Water District took an innovative approach to protect its freshwater supply, moving to a system whereby it purifies wastewater into drinking water.

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Freshwater for the Big Apple

The New York City water supply system requires expensive filtration, but the city averted an $8 billion dollar cost through cooperation and collaboration.

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US – Water Use – Agriculture

Agriculture is heavily dependent on water, as the map above shows. Of all sectors in the U.S., only
thermoelectric power generation withdraws more water than agriculture. Although the agriculture sector supports both jobs and communities, doing so requires a reliable water supply. The absence of a reliable water supply is incredibly costly. For example, in Washington alone the 2001 drought was estimated to have cost between $270 and $400 million in production damages with a loss of between 4,600 to 7,500 U.S. jobs.

Between 1950 and 1980, as the U.S. agriculture sector grew, the quantity of groundwater used for irrigation nearly doubled, due to rapid irrigation in areas of the central United States. During this time, groundwater accounted for 40 percent of all irrigation withdrawals.

Groundwater is far less sustainable than surface water because there is less of it and its rate of recharge is slower.

By every standard, that rate is incredibly difficult to measure. Ideally, the volume extracted from an aquifer should be less than or equal to the amount of water that is returned to it. As climatic conditions (especially precipitation) vary, so too does the rate of groundwater recharge.

As the American population has grown, the sector’s water use has grown. The country’s agricultural exports contain what economists call “embedded water” – meaning we are actually exporting our water. As new markets open and as the sector continues to grow, so will the need for water.

For the U.S. to ensure healthy communities and a healthy economy, it must approach the future with improved water management techniques.

The High Plains Aquifer

In the United States, the situation in the High Plains provides a precautionary lesson about the need to effectively manage water aquifers.

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Economic Impact of the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes have shaped the culture and economy of the eight states that border them. More than 1.5 million jobs are directly connected to the Great Lakes, generating $62 billion in wages.

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US – Water Use – Industrial

Water is required in the production of everyday items, everything from computer chips to consumer goods. For example, a pair of jeans requires nearly 3,000 gallons of water to produce, a gallon of paint requires 13 gallons of water and a t-shirt requires 594 gallons. The map above tracks water withdrawals based on industry. The largest industrial water users are the food, paper, chemicals, refined petroleum and metals industries.

Even though the primary uses of water and the largest users of water are consistent in industries worldwide, there are still vast disparities between the water footprints of average industrial products from country to country. In the United States, the footprint is more than 26 gallons per dollar. In places like Japan, Australia and Canada, the footprint is only two to four gallons per dollar.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, there are varying, typical patterns around water use from country to country, most of which depend on whether that country experiences water stress and to what extent. This, of course, depends on the climate and agricultural patterns within each region.

It also depends on consumption patterns among populations – especially when it comes to diets, since meat-intensive ones require more water to sustain. This is a second major factor impacting the available water in a given area. Particularly, in countries where the population consumes a meat-intensive diet, water footprints tend to be higher.

As an example, the average American consumes 264 pounds of meat per year, more than three times the world average. In addition to meat-intensive diets, a high consumption of industrial goods significantly contributes to the total water footprints of rich countries.

Thirsty High-Tech

The technology industry is a key driver of global economic growth, but it’s also one of the world’s largest water users, revealing that when it comes to products – nothing escapes the need for water.

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Data Centers are Huge Water Users

Substantial amounts of water and energy are used to manage the large facilities that house computer data systems, or data centers.

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