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Shot from the top of the waterfall Milford Sound in New Zealand. The waterfall creates symmetrical patterns, and there's moss vegetation in the background.

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand's natural wonders; the fresh waterfall creates symmetrical patterns in fjord water and is a popular tourist destination. 

Credit: picturegarden / Getty Images


Call to action:

Conserve freshwater and restore water cycles at multiple scales using regenerative practices, collaborative management, and innovative technologies.

Water is essential to life on Earth. More than 70 percent of every cell inside every living organism is water. It makes up half our body weight and is crucial to maintaining healthy organs, reducing body temperature, and processing waste. Water is essential to regeneration. But water is in trouble. Only 3 percent of all water on Earth is freshwater, and two-thirds of that is locked up in glaciers. Competing demands, aquifer depletion, drought, and pollution are stressing the remaining one percent. Global water demand is projected to outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030. Agriculture uses 70 percent of all freshwater. Water stress will grow as the effects of climate change become more severe. Solutions must be diverse, collaborative, and work at multiple scales. A crucial one is regenerative agriculture, which can improve water cycles, keep water clean, and build resilience to extreme weather. This is particularly important in water farming systems, such as rice cultivation, which depend on a healthy water cycle.

Action Items


Learn about the multiple challenges to freshwater and their impacts. Roughly 25 percent of the world’s population is experiencing extreme water stress. Approximately two billion people do not have access to clean drinking water, and 3.6 billion lack adequate sanitation. More than 800,00 people die each year from unsafe water. Chemical runoff from farms is a significant source of water pollution. While drought, erosion, and contamination impact surface water sources, more than 90 percent of all freshwater globally is found below our feet as groundwater. These subsurface sources are suffering from depletion, pollution, lack of natural recharge, and mining for use in hydraulic fracturing. Impacts on freshwater include:

Learn what you can do to mitigate the freshwater crisis where you live. In the U.S., an individual uses 80-100 gallons of freshwater each day for indoor use. There are many strategies for conserving freshwater at home and in your neighborhood.

Participate in watershed and wetland restoration. Restoring degraded lands, streams, and riparian areas to ecological health can increase the quantity and quality of water available downstream. If appropriate, you can implement creek and riparian restoration on your property. If you have wetlands on your property, their restoration as an opportunity to help a critical ecosystem that benefits us all. See Degraded Land Restoration Nexus, Wetlands Nexus, and Rainmakers Nexus for ideas.

Support the shift to alternative hydropower where you live. Shifting away from destructive dams and towards alternative hydro projects can conserve freshwater. If you have a body of water near your home or in your local area, installing a mini, micro, or pico hydro system could generate power for you and your wider community. Here and here are resources on how to design and build your own small-scale hydro systems. See Hydropower Nexus.

Speak up for solutions to the freshwater crisis. There are many forums where you can be heard. Write an op-ed, be vocal on social media, and share videos like this one on your social media pages.

  • Support dam removals. Removing aging and obsolete dams can reconnect fragmented rivers and restore plant and animal life, which depend on these aquatic ecosystems. The largest dam removal in the history of the U.S. is underway in Oregon. Here is a citizen’s guide to dam removal that gives background information.
  • Support the reintroduction of beavers. Beavers are a keystone species whose activities support thousands of plant, animal, and fish species and provide ecosystem services for humans. Their dams slow the flow of water and provide protection against floods. Beavers create and expand wetlands, which act as filters for freshwater. See Beavers Nexus.
  • Support groundwater protection. Urge your local and regional governments to safeguard groundwater supplies. Here and here are ideas and a list of suggestions.
  • Support wetlands. Wetlands are disappearing faster than any other type of ecosystem. Sixty percent have been lost, and the remainder are being impacted by climate change. Speak up about their protection and restoration to government and agencies. See Wetlands Nexus.
  • Support the Right to Water. In 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized the right of every human being to have access to adequate amounts of clean water for personal and domestic uses.

Support groups protecting sources of freshwater, particularly in areas where water is scarce, polluted, and/or are homelands for Indigenous and traditional communities. Many organizations and agencies are working to protect and improve freshwater supplies worldwide (see Key Players below for more). Examples include:

  • Water.org is a nonprofit organization that works globally to bring safe, accessible, and affordable water to people and communities through financing, such as small loans.
  • Charity:water is a nonprofit that provides financial and other resources to partner organizations with the mission of ending the global water crisis.
  • Here and here are lists of nonprofits involved with freshwater issues.


Farmers, ranchers, and other landowners

Learn about the challenges to freshwater in agriculture. In addition to depending on adequate levels of snow and rainfall to water their crops and animals, which is increasingly challenging under climate change with more frequent droughts and higher temperatures, farmers and ranchers must be mindful of freshwater sources in rivers and underground. Challenges include:

Employ regenerative farming and ranching practices that help conserve and restore freshwater supplies. Regenerative farming practices can prevent water evaporation from soils, increase their water-holding capacity, and improve water quality, principally by increasing the amount of soil organic matter (SOM). It is estimated that cropland in the U.S. could store an equivalent to what flows over Niagara Falls every 150 days by increasing SOM by 1 percent. However, tilling and other conventional farm practices, such as leaving the ground bare after harvest, decrease SOM, inhibiting soil’s ability to retain water. Switching to regenerative practices can restore SOM. See Regenerative Agriculture Nexus. Strategies for conserving freshwater include:


Expand efforts to address the freshwater crisis. Civil society and nonprofit organizations are on the frontlines of the water crisis in more than 100 countries, where they help provide access to clean water and reliable sanitation, teach, train, and make funding available through micro-loans and other strategies. Their work is critical and urgent. NGOs need to find a way to expand their efforts, especially as climate change further stresses freshwater resources. A poll of water experts determined 19 consensus solutions to the freshwater crisis, including water pricing, land restoration, and improved infrastructure.

  • Expand work with Indigenous groups. Water is a human right, not a commodity. River Network is an NGO that connects tribes and nonprofit organizations to protect and restore river systems in North America.

State and Federal Agencies

Improve management on state and federal land to improve water quality and quantity. Agencies have many tools to address the freshwater crisis, including preserving and restoring forests and wetlands, controlling point-source pollution, and encouraging regenerative agriculture. See Wetlands Nexus, Rainmakers Nexus, and Regenerative Agriculture Nexus.

  • Encourage collaboration by partnering on restoration projects. Many regional, multistakeholder groups include conservation groups and agricultural producers involved in land restoration activities, such as the Western Landowners Alliance, the Quivira Coalition, and the Sage Grouse Initiative in the U.S. Partnerships with state and federal public land agencies can improve the scope and impact of many of these projects.


Reduce water use and improve water management. There are many ways a company can cut its water use and improve its management, both within its facilities and supply chain. It also makes good business sense, as this Global Water Report explains. Digital solutions are key. Actions include: 

  • Reduce consumption. Smart technology, artificial intelligence, and remote sensing can precisely measure water consumption throughout a company’s supply chain. Here are fifteen companies implementing strategies to conserve freshwater and improve water security. Flume offers flow analytics at the meter for insurance companies and utilities. Simplewater connects laboratories with homes and businesses that need water testing.
  • Avoid water line breaks and leakages. Deploy detectors and sensors to locate, measure, and address water leakages. Companies can also invest in artificial intelligence technologies that help predict pipe breaks, pressure changes, and other problems that could be headed off with predictive maintenance. Conservation Labs uses acoustic monitoring and machine learning to evaluate the water flow in pipes, identify anomalies, and alert building operators to potential leaks.
  • Recycle wastewater wherever possible. In almost every industry, water can be reused for various purposes, including irrigation, washing, fire protection, and more. Here is a factsheet on how wastewater can be reused within a business or between several companies.
  • Prevent contamination of freshwater sources. For companies that discharge water as part of their operations, it is critically important that the water not be contaminated. There are numerous strategies and technologies that businesses can utilize, including digital solutions that enable smart pumping, pH sensors, chemical and oxygen detectors, and methane detectors, among other tools.
  • Invest in new technology. Look for early-stage hardware and software technologies that solve problems relating to freshwater, particularly in places where freshwater is contaminated. Solar-powered water filtration can help provide clean drinking water. Here are other examples.
  • Educate your employees and local communities on the issues. Informing your employees or communities about freshwater conservation can be as simple as including information in a company newsletter, sharing it on a social site, or participating in a community meeting. Here are ideas to share from the EPA. Here is an example of how water conservation districts are using social media.
  • Partner with NGOs, research institutions, and agencies. There is much to be gained from partnering with nonprofit organizations (NGOs), researchers, and agencies on ways to reduce risks related to water use, as well as strengthen communities in which companies operate, particularly in water-stressed areas. Financial support can be especially useful.
  • Resist privatization of water resources. Approximately 90 percent of freshwater globally is under public control. For various reasons, including mismanagement by governmental bodies and the lure of profits, efforts to privatize water have grown in recent years. While these efforts may improve the efficiency of water management, they run a substantial risk of commodifying water at the expense of impoverished communities and nature, creating inequities that could easily jeopardize the well-being of millions of people.


Improve state and federal oversight. Actions that agencies can implement to address the freshwater crisis include:

  • Appropriately priced water. Pricing water can encourage people and companies to waste less, pollute less, and invest in water infrastructure. Here is a guide from the EPA on pricing and the affordability of water services.
  • Support communities with funds. Support or connect communities with financial resources that enable them to pay for water and sanitation infrastructure and ongoing maintenance. Here is an example of drinking water grants from the EPA. Here is an example from Albania.
  • Provide loans to private companies. Provide loans, loan guarantees, equity, and political risk insurance to support private sector investment in freshwater infrastructure, technology, and other solutions. Here is an example from Haiti, where the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation helped private investors in multiple projects.
  • Provide technical support. Experts in government agencies can support the construction of water treatment and sanitation plants, stormwater drainage, water reuse, and recycling systems, especially for rural communities. Here are examples from Angola and Lebanon. Technical assistance at local, regional, and national levels will be increasingly necessary to cope with the compounding impacts of climate change.
  • Improve Monitoring. Strengthen existing water quality monitoring programs to ensure access to safe water. The USDA’s National Water Quality Initiative uses water monitoring and assessments to help farmers and others achieve clean water goals. Improved monitoring can include remote sensing and other technology to enable accurate and reliable measurement of water resources, especially under climate change, including improved drought prediction.
  • Expand partnerships. Work with the private sector, researchers, and NGOs to disseminate water data to the public. Here is an example from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED).



Thirst Gap (six-part podcast on the Colorado River)

Circle of Blue (weekly and special podcasts)

What About Water? (podcasts from the Global Institute for Water Security)

Water Scarcity (podcast series from the Council on Foreign Relations)

Water Talk (podcast series)

We All Live Downstream (podcast series)

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