How We Use Water

We use water in all parts of our lives. Think about how many times you interacted with water in the last day. If you drank something -- even juice, milk, or soda -- it was mainly made up of water. Did you eat fruit, vegetables, or even meat? All of these contain water. Did you use the restroom and flush the toilet? Did you wash your hands or take a shower? Did it rain or did you watch the clouds float by? Water is EVERYWHERE in our lives. And in every instance, there is a good chance that there is more in our water than just hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Many of these other substances won't hurt us, but it's good to know where our water comes from and what is in it so it doesn't make us sick.


Water for Fishing & Swimming

More than 3 billion people around the world depend on fish as their main protein source. Healthy fisheries depend on healthy water. Healthy water for fish contain lots of other substances like phytoplankton, nutrients, salts, and other stuff we may not want to drink, but is important for fish to survive.  But, fish (and people) that swim in water that is contaminated with pollution, harmful bacteria, metals, and chemicals will make everyone sick.



Many places around the world have inadequate wastewater management systems -- either they are receiving too much waste, or they are not equipped to clean the waste sufficiently. Especially in big rain events, many wastewater systems fail and human waste spills untreated into nearby waterways. This contaminates water with harmful bacteria and levels of nutrients.


Large, industrial-scale agriculture and farms pose several issues for water quality -- livestock produces lots of manure, and crop production uses a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When it rains, water washes these pollutants into nearby rivers and streams, which can cause big algal blooms and bacteria contamination.

Urban Runoff

Urban areas have a lot of impervious surface, or surfaces that do not allow water to soak into the ground when it rains. Parking lots, roads, building roofs. Cities also have lots of contributors to pollution, namely vehicles and industry. When it rains, the water washes pollutants off of the hard, often hot surfaces into waterways, heating the water at the same time. These issues contribute to chemical and metal pollutants, as well as warmer waters.


In the United States, the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 to regulate discharge of pollutants into surface waters of the US to maintain 'swimmable and fishable' waters. The EPA is the agency in charge of this enforcing the laws established under this policy. This policy has generally been considered effective in cleaning up polluted waters, but less effective in protecting against new forms of pollution.

Water for Cooking & Drinking

Of all of our uses of water, cooking and drinking requires the highest quality because we are ingesting it directly into our bodies. Remember exploring the chemistry of water and its amazing ability to bind to other substances? Well, this is also a challenge because the water molecules we drink could have any variety of other substances attached to them when we consume them. That is why it's important that we consume water that is clean and healthy. Unfortunately, not all people and communities have access to clean water for cooking and drinking.

baby drinking


Failing Infrastructure

Infrastructure refers to the big systems that help run our communities like water and wastewater treatment plants, water pipes, storm drains, etc. In many places across the US and around the world, these systems are old or too small, and are failing. When they fail, people consume contaminated water, which makes them sick. These systems are expensive to replace or update but they are critical to human health.

Oil & Gas Contamination

In some parts of the US and around the world, efforts to extract oil and gas from the ground has led to pipelines leaking and breaking, and in the case of shale fracking, the release of highly contaminated wastewater. These contaminants are releasing harmful substances and chemicals into waterways and the surrounding environment.

Toxic Contamination

A toxic substance is a substance that can be poisonous or cause health effects to living organisms. In places across the US and around the world, toxic substances have been released or left in the environment through industry, agriculture, mining, warfare, and other human activities that are leaching harmful chemicals into the water supply. Some of these contaminants are referred to as "forever chemicals" because they are very hard to get rid of.


In the United States, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed by Congress in 1974, with amendments added in 1986 and 1996, to protect the nation's drinking water supply. While it was initially effective in improving and safeguarding drinking water safety, monitoring and updating the legislation to include new chemicals has not kept pace.

Does everyone have access to clean water?