Water Access Facts & Figures

Access to safe, clean drinking water is universal human right.

United Nations (U.N.)

96.5% of all water on earth is in the oceans and undrinkable.

1.6% is locked up in the polar ice caps and glaciers.

2% of all the water on earth is “fresh.”

U.S. Geological Survey

The Great Lakes account for 21% of the world’s freshwater. More than 30 million people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water—10% of the U.S. population and 30% of the Canadian population.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

How the world uses freshwater:
• Irrigation: 70%
• Industry: 22%
• Domestic use: 8%

UNESCO World Water Assessment Program (WWAP)

Every day each person on earth drinks approximately .5 1 gallons of water but eats 500 1,250 gallons of water used in food. For example, vegetables require: 5 gallons of water, 1 slice of bread: 10 gallons, 1 apple: 17 gallons. Animals that provide meat however require much more water. For example, 1 steak: requires 1,006 gallons.

United Nations (UN)

The amount of water needed to produce:

A cup of tea = 8 gallons

1 slice of wheat bread = 10 gallons

1 load in the dishwasher = 15 gallons

A 10 minute shower = 25 gallons

10 minutes dishwashing by hand = 30 gallons

A glass of wine = 31 gallons

A load in the washing machine = 40 gallons

1 pound of sugar = 180 gallons

A cotton shirt = 700 gallons

A set of 4 new tires = 2,072 gallons

1 pound of coffee = 2,500 gallons

Loch Ness Water Gardens

By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and 66% of the world’s population could be under stress conditions.

United Nations (U.N.)

25% of the children in the world will be living in areas with extremely limited water by 2040 unless climate action is taken now.


2.4 billion people on our planet lack access to basic sanitation facilities that water provides.

Thirst Project

In the U.S., more than 2 million Americans live without basic access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

U.S. Water Alliance

From 2010-2018 water bills in the U.S. rose an average of 80%.

The Guardian

44 million people are served by water systems that recently had health-based Safe Drinking Water Act violations.

U.S. Water Alliance

Federal water funding has declined 77% since the 1970’s.

U.S. Congressional Budget Office

Meanwhile, there are 10.4 million residential and 309,000 public swimming pools in the United States.

Pool & Hot Tub Alliance

Golf courses around the U.S. use approximately 2.08 billion gallons of water per day for irrigation. That’s about 130,000 gallons per day per course.

Inside Science

Bottled Water

Americans consumed 14.4 billion gallons of bottled water in 2019, up 3.6% from 2018. Bottled water’s retail dollar sales also grew in 2019, up 5.2% reaching $34.6 billion.

Beverage Marketing Corporation

It can take 1.63 liters of water to make every liter of bottled water.

Natural Resources Defense Council

Some people spend 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than they typically would for tap water.

Natural Resources Defense Council

25% of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle—sometimes further treated, sometimes not.

Natural Resources Defense Council

22% of bottled water brands contain chemicals above state health limits.

Natural Resources Defense Council

Adaption to climate change is mainly about better water management

United Nations (U.N.)

90% of natural disasters are water related.

United Nations (U.N.)

Access to clean water gives communities more time to grow food, earn an income, and go to school — all of which fight poverty.

Charity Water

It takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water.

Pacific Institute

Sometimes clean water must be purchased. The price is about .70  per 5 gallons, which is what a family of 6 drinks per day. The average expenditure of such a family monthly is about $20. 

Archdiocese of Milwaukee


The biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems has been degraded more than any other ecosystem.

United Nations (U.N.)

The major sources of water pollution are from human settlements and industrial and agricultural activities.

United Nations (U.N.)

Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 485,000 diarrheal deaths each year.

World Health Organization

Unsafe or inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene cause approximately 3% of all deaths

Pacific Institute

In developing countries, 80% of industrial wastes (about 300-400 million tons) are dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply.

United Nations (U.N.)

Some of the industries that pollute the most water are: chemicals, printing, petroleum refining, leather products manufacturing, paper, construction & metal manufacturing.

Safe Drinking Water Foundation

Causes of industrial water pollution comes from: asbestos, lead, mercury, nitrates & phosphates (from fertilizers), sulfur, oils & petrochemicals.

Water Pollution

Nitrate from agriculture is the most common chemical contaminant in the world’s groundwater aquifers.

United Nations (U.N.)

An estimated 17 to 27 billion gallons of polluted water is generated by 40 mines (e.g. gold, copper, uranium mines) in the US each year. Water treatment for these mines will cost as much as $67 billion per year. 62% of these mines (25 out 40) are located partly on public lands so the cleanup costs will be shouldered by the American taxpayer if the mining companies are unable or unwilling to pay.


In the United States, 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, storm water, and industrial waste are discharged into US waters annually.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

44% of streams, 64% of lakes, and 30% of bays and estuaries are classified as polluted.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The head of China’s national development agency said that 25% of China’s main rivers were so poisoned the water harmed the skin.


In 1 week, a typical cruise ship generates: 200,000 gallons of sewage, 1 million gallons of ‘grey water’ from showers, sinks, dishwashers and washing machines, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, more than 2 tons of solid waste and toxic wastes from on board operations like dry cleaners and photo-processing bottles.


In the US, an estimated 200 million gallons of used motor oil are improperly disposed off by dumping on the ground, tossed in the trash (ending up in landfills) and poured down sewers and drains.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Women & Girls

In Africa, 90% of the work of gathering water is done by women.  Women and girls often spend up to 6 hours a day fetching water spending about 40 billion hours a year walking for water.

United Nations

Clean water helps keep kids in school, especially girls. Less time collecting water means more time in class. Clean water and proper toilets at school means teenage girls don’t have to stay home for a week out of every month.

The Water Project

When a community gets water, women and girls get their lives back. They start businesses, improve their homes, and take charge of their own futures.

Charity Water

Reducing the distance to a water source from 30 to 15 minutes increased girl’s school attendance by 12%

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

With the same access to productive resources as men, women could increase yields on their farms by 20-30% and lift 150 million people out of hunger.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Involving women can increase the effectiveness of water projects 6-7%

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs


Diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.

United Nations (U.N.)

15% of the world’s population (1 billion people) do not have access to safe drinking water

United Nations Human Development Report

Worldwide, 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source. An estimated 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation (more than 35% of the world’s population)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

A lack of safe water and sanitation in cities leads to cholera, malaria and diarrhea & pneumonia.

World Health Organization (WHO)

Every year around 700,000 children die from diarrhea caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene — that’s about 2,000 a day. Even when it doesn’t kill, it can impact on child stunting mentally and physically, affecting children for the rest of their lives. About 50% of these are under 5 years old.

Schools and Health

For every $1 spent on water, sanitation and hygiene programs, there is, on average, a $4 return in productivity.

Catholic Relief Services


It takes massive amounts of water to convert fossil fuels to electricity. Coal- and gas-fired power plants use water for cooling. During hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – a process for extracting oil and natural gas – large quantities of water are mixed with chemicals and sand and injected underground to help draw out the minerals. Renewables such as wind and solar, however, use negligible amounts of water in turning raw energy into usable electricity.

To power a home for a month, it takes:

687 gallons of water using coal

198 gallons of water using gas

26 gallons using solar

0 gallons using wind

Environmental Defense Fund