Will we ever run out of water?

What did you do first when you got up this morning? Perhaps you put on the kettle, or jumped into a hot steamy shower? However you like to start your day, it won’t have been long before it involved water.

Here in the UK, water is everywhere. We moan when it’s raining, have frequent baths and showers, and even spend our leisure time splashing around in the stuff! But it is important to remember that this is not the case everywhere.

Although we take it for granted that we can simply turn on a tap and get clean water delivered right into our homes, 11% of the world’s population have to walk over half an hour to gain access to the same stuff. Every continent is impacted in some way by a lack of clean, fresh water and there is a real and growing concern that access to water is quickly becoming a major risk across the world.

Water water everywhere..

70% of our planet’s surface is water – there’s a reason we’re nicknamed the ‘Blue Planet’! So why might we be concerned that one day we will run out?

It might seem that we are surrounded by the blue stuff, but the majority of the water on our planet is too salty for us to use. In fact, only 2.5% of the water on our planet is freshwater, the name for water which we can drink. Unfortunately, not even all that freshwater can be used – a lot of it is frozen in glaciers and trapped in rocks deep underground.

In the end, the amount of freshwater which is available for us to use is only about 0.007% of the water on our planet!

Recycling water…

Luckily, good old planet Earth is very good at holding on to water, meaning the amount of freshwater which is available to us stays relatively constant over time.

When water evaporates it doesn’t escape into space because our atmosphere is pretty cold. The water freezes into solid crystals and falls back to Earth. Water is constantly being cycled into our rivers and oceans from stores deep within rocks in the ground. Even volcanoes, when they erupt, give off water vapour into the atmosphere! This cycling process means that we have a constant supply of clean water for us to use.

People people everywhere..

Although the amount of freshwater is staying constant, the population of planet Earth is growing rapidly. Currently at 7.5 Billion, our population is expected to raise to 10 Billion in the next 30 years!

Humans are 60% water and need it to survive. The NHS recommends that we should drink between 6 and 8 glasses of water a day to stay healthy (that’s just under 2 litres). But we don’t just need water to drink, we also need access to water for growing and processing food, for manufacturing clothing and equipment, for our waste management and sanitation systems. That’s before we have even started to think about leisure activities such as swimming and watering the garden!

With a quickly growing population and an unchanging supply of water, it’s easy to see why people would be worried about access to water. Ok, so we might not “run out” of water, but as population grows there are more people who need to use the same amount of freshwater. Worryingly, it also seems that we are getting less efficient in how we use water. The UN estimates that worldwide water use is increasing at twice the rate of the population.

So, will we ever run out of water?

Given that our planet is fantastic at recycling water, and we have engineered clever ways to recycle our water too, it is unlikely that this Blue Planet we call home will become any less blue very soon.

However, it is not the total amount of water, but the amount of available freshwater which is important for our quality of life. The amount of freshwater on the planet is staying stable, but the number of people on our planet is rising rapidly. Without changing our behaviour, the demand for clean water might start to become greater than the supply in more places across the world.

What can we do!?

Changing some of our habits can help. By being aware of our own personal water consumption and making sure water doesn’t get wasted, we can help save water on a local level. For example, taking care not to waste water at home leaving the tap running.

Significant changes can also come from thinking about the food and products we consume. Did you know it takes almost 15,000 L to produce 1 kg of beef? Switching to chicken would bring your water consumption down to 5,000 L, and switching to a plant-based diet would bring that even lower.

Ultimately though, we need large system change to really impact our water use. We can help bring this about by raising awareness around problems with our water supply, and encouraging governments to support water-saving projects and charities worldwide.

It’s only water… Or is it?

One of Science Made Simple’s most popular shows is It’s Only Water. . . or is it?

This looks at the properties of water and explores materials with interactive science demonstration designed to engage and entertain. The show is available for festivals and KS2 audiences. We travel internationally.

Learn more about It’s only water… or is it? here.

Enquire or book online now!


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Posted in Exploring Science, Geology