Young boy fishing in Tonle Sap at sunset.

Freshwater Ecosystems

The areas on which humanity depends for its most precious resource are under increasing pressure.

© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg

Fresh water is the lifeblood of our planet, and freshwater ecosystems connect headwaters with oceans, land with water, and people with the resources they need to thrive. But when rivers, lakes and wetlands are degraded, their ability to provide reliable supplies of clean water — and to support the species on which millions of vulnerable people depend — is threatened.

What Are the Issues?

40% more demand than supply

Insufficient supply

Demand for fresh water is outstripping supply. Many water systems around the world are currently overtaxed, and some already run dry: The city of Cape Town, South Africa, recently prepared for "Day Zero," when the city’s taps were expected to be turned off. According to one estimate, by 2030 our need for water will outstrip reliable supply by 40 percent.

80% of wastewater goes untreated


Agriculture, industrial processes, untreated waste and degraded lands are leading causes of pollution in freshwater systems. Impaired water quality threatens freshwater species, affects fisheries all the way to coasts, increases water treatment costs and poses risks to human health.

1 billion people facing water scarcity


Around the world, climate change is already affecting freshwater systems, as droughts and floods occur with greater frequency and intensity. Degraded ecosystems — and the species that live in them — are less resilient to these climate impacts, and communities that depend on the services provided by healthy freshwater ecosystems become increasingly vulnerable.

Our Solutions

We work to protect and restore the freshwater ecosystems around the world that supply critical services to the people who depend on them most. Our projects use sound science to offer innovative solutions that can serve as models for conservation anywhere on Earth. Given the link between nature and human well-being, we build bridges between conservation and development, providing leaders at all levels with the information they need to consider the full value of nature in their decisions.


Featured Publications

News From “Conservation News”

What Can You Do?

More than 2 billion people lack access to safe, readily available water at home. Your donation can help us conserve the freshwater ecosystems that people depend on.

You can also help if you ...


Learn why fresh water is the "essence of life."

‘I’m something they just take for...

Fresh water is the lifeblood of the planet. No one can survive without it. Now, it has a voice.

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© Art Wolfe/

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