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Where in the World Is All the Water?


If you took all the water in the world and scooped it into one big ball – the oceans, ice caps, rivers, wells, clouds, the water that’s in you and your dog and the orange in the fruit bowl, all of it, it all fits into that bubble over North America.

Separate out all the fresh water – lakes, rivers, groundwater and swamp water – and you have the small bubble hovering over Kansas.

And for just the water that’s in the rivers and lakes, that would be the tiny bubble you can barely see over Atlanta. (Yes, 99 percent of all the world’s freshwater is in the ground, and most of it is inaccessible.)

The whole representation has been put together by the U.S. Geological Survey. Bear in mind that it’s about volume. We often hear that “70 percent of the Earth’s surface is water,” which is true. And that sounds like a lot of water. But when you measure it by volume, not so much.

And the amount of fresh water actually available to us is absolutely tiny. According to the EPA’s WaterSense website:

Water covers approximately 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, but less than 1 percent of that is available for human use. The world must share this small amount for agricultural, domestic, commercial, industrial, and environmental needs. Across the globe, water consumption has tripled in the last 50 years. Managing the supply and availability of water is one of the most critical natural resource issues facing the United States and the world.

Homes use more than half of publicly supplied water in the United States, which is significantly more than is used by either business or industry. A family of four can use approximately 400 gallons of water every day.

And paradoxically, some of the highest per capita residential water use is in the desert Southwest. That’s because people move to these desert regions and then plant giant lawns and golf courses.

With water use in the United States increasing every year, many regions are starting to feel the pressure. In the last five years, nearly every region of the country has experienced water shortages. At least 36 states are anticipating local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013, even under non-drought conditions.