© CI / Illustration by Tim Meko
Free-flowing fresh water supports our most basic human needs. It allows us to grow food. It generates hydropower. It permits the migration
of fish that are eaten by hundreds of millions. And it allows us to ship goods around the world.
If freshwater flows are diverted, as in the construction of dams or dikes, the day-to-day needs of people living downstream
may be imperiled. Commercial fish stocks decline or even disappear. Dried up riverbeds no longer provide water for croplands.
Shipping routes disappear.
Freshwater ecosystems such as wetlands, rivers and floodplains protect humans from harm and secure our health. They filter pollutants
to provide us with clean drinking water, they sustain wildlife, and they buffer the impacts of storm surges and floods.
When freshwater ecosystems are degraded or lost, such as in filling in wetlands to build cities, wildlife becomes displaced or dies.
People face increased exposure to pollutants and waterborne disease unless expensive treatment plants are installed. Exposure to flooding increases.
The freshwater cycle replenishes freshwater supplies and flows. Precipitation falls from the atmosphere, flows over lands,
fills our aquifers, and evaporates back into the atmosphere, sustaining life on Earth.
As our climate changes, so does our planet’s supply and flow of fresh water. Droughts and floods intensify and last longer. People
must walk miles to access water. Crops die. Homes are destroyed. Plants, animals and people adapt or perish.
Fresh water helps renew us, culturally and spiritually as well as physically. We swim in it, we catch its fish, we gaze admiringly at its wildlife,
and we place it at the center of some of our most ancient spiritual rituals.
If freshwater flows are overused, or if freshwater quality is compromised (e.g., as a result of poorly planned agriculture),
much of fresh water’s spiritual and cultural values are lost. Recreation and tourism also diminish as wildlife is displaced and aesthetic appeal decreases.