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what approximate percentage of the earth’s freshwater is groundwater

what approximate percentage of the earth's freshwater is groundwater

what approximate percentage of the earth’s freshwater is groundwater

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Earth’s Freshwater

Most people have heard Earth referred to as “the water planet.” With that name comes the rightful image of a world with plentiful water.

In photographs taken from space, we can see that our planet has more water than land. However, of all the water on Earth,

more than 99 percent of Earth’s water is unusable by humans and many other living things – only about 0.3 percent of our fresh water is found in the surface water of lakes, rivers and swamps.

The teacher guide describes our current understanding of water cycling and freshwater issues that affect natural and human communities.

Freshwater Resources

This entry describes the unequal distribution of freshwater resources on Earth and how it impacts populations’ access to water, their economic development, and global geopolitics.

Access to Water

Because freshwater resources are unequally distributed across the globe, many human populations do not have access to clean, safe drinking water.

According to the United Nations, 2.1 billion people around the globe lacked access to safely managed drinking water in 2017.

Instead, they had access only to contaminated water, which can carry pollution and infectious diseases; populations drinking dirty water are at increased risk of diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, and other diseases.

Lack of access to clean drinking water leads to more than 3 million deaths every year.

As a result…

As a result, providing improved water sources to developing countries is an important goal for international organizations.

Between 1990 and 2015, 2.6 billion people worldwide gained access to improved water resources as a result of international efforts.

The remaining human populations still without access to clean water are concentrated mostly in Africa and Asia, representing nearly 1 billion people.

Economic Development

Access to fresh water is also important for economic development. For example, freshwater sources enable the development of fisheries.

People around the world harvest fish from these habitats, providing enough animal protein to feed 158 million people worldwide.

These fisheries are both a source of subsistence for local fishermen and a source of income for traders.

 what approximate percentage of the earth's freshwater is groundwater
what approximate percentage of the earth’s freshwater is groundwater

fresh water as a habitat

Beyond the use of fresh water as a habitat, fresh water is also an important resource in other economic activities, such as agriculture.

According to one estimate, about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water is used for agriculture.

Farmers around the world use irrigation to transport water from surface and ground water sources to their fields.

These agricultural activities involve over 1 billion people worldwide and generate over $2.4 trillion in economic value every year.

In the future, demand for agricultural fresh water will only increase as global populations grow.

freshwater demand

According to one estimate, freshwater demand will increase by 50 percent by 2050.

This increase in water use will put further strain on Earth’s limited freshwater supplies and make access to fresh water even more important.


The fight over fresh water can already be seen today in international geopolitics.

For example, Ethiopia and Egypt have long fought over Nile water resources in the Horn of Africa. The Nile River is an important waterway that supplies nearly 85 percent of Egypt’s water.

However, approximately 85 percent of the Nile’s water originates in Ethiopia.


Because Ethiopia is planning to dam part of the Nile river in order to generate electricity, Egypt is concerned that their access to the Nile’s waters will be adversely impacted.

Although the disagreement has not yet turned into open conflict, it is clear that securing this important freshwater resource will define Ethiopian-Egyptian relations for many years in the future.

These conflicts

These conflicts over water resources are common throughout the world. Even in the United States, where freshwater resources are relatively abundant, different populations fight over the use of fresh water.

One major debate that is currently being waged centers on the Colorado River system.

 what approximate percentage of the earth's freshwater is groundwater
what approximate percentage of the earth’s freshwater is groundwater

This water system

This water system supplies water to Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, but due to a drought that has reduced water flow in this river system, these seven states need to decide how to reduce water usage in order to preserve the river for all the other users.

As populations grow

As populations grow, and as climate change alters precipitation patterns around the world, these conflicts over water will continue to occur, and with greater frequency, in the future.

Will There Be Enough Fresh Water?

Clean fresh water is a limited and valuable resource. In this module, students consider the question:

will there be enough fresh water?

Students explore the distribution and uses of fresh water on Earth. They explore models of porosity and permeability, run experiments with computational models, and hear from a hydrologist working on the same question.

Activity 1: Constructing an Argument: Water

Students will learn how to create a good scientific argument in the context of freshwater availability.

They will learn to develop scientific arguments through a series of questions that ask them to make a claim, explain their answer, rate their certainty with their answer, and explain that rating.

Activity 2: Availability of Fresh Water

Students explore how water moves above and below Earth’s surface by using interactive computational models.

Activity 3: Using Fresh Water

Activity 4: Groundwater Movement

Students explore how porosity and permeability of different sediments affect the way water flows through Earth’s layers.

Students use interactive computational models to explore the underground flow and deposition of water and determine the best places to access the water in a sustainable manner.

Activity 5: Groundwater and Surface Water

Students use interactive computational models to explore the underground flow of water and how it affects surface bodies of water.

They predict how the water table will be affected by the placement of wells around a gaining stream.

Finally, they explore the reasons the river dried up in a case study of the Santa Cruz River in Arizona.

Activity 6: Using Groundwater Wisely

Students use interactive computational models to explore the relationship between infiltration and recharge in natural and urbanized areas.

They investigate how human development has changed the natural flow of water.

Students explore the transfer of water from one aquifer to another and propose solutions to allow for water extracted from wells to recharge the aquifers from which they came.

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