Where our water goes

Preventing a water crisis in the United States

Water covers 70 percent of our planet but less that two percent of it is accessible—a limited supply that is dwindling. With reports pointing to a major water crisis in the United States in a little over 50 years, National Geographic photographer Erika Larsen finds out where our water goes, and what we can do to save it.


Government-backed research predicts serious water shortages across the United States with the possibility of many water supplies being reduced by one-third within 50 years. This threat to our water security is a challenge everyone can help solve. From federal government to individual households, if we all save more water, we can save our water future.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at their current rate, there is an 80% chance of a drought lasting longer than 30 years in the Central Plains. Only by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels can we stave off this impending disaster.
In 2019 a low snowpack brought drought to half of Washington State, hard on the heels of the historically low snowpack of 2015. Water Authorities are being urged to monitor supply, urgently fix leaks, and educate consumers on water conservation.
New York
Water filtration plants that purify drinking water for cities cost around $10 billion to build and $100 million to run. But New York City has invested $1.7 billion to protect its pristine water supply so that 90% of its one billion gallons a day, safely hits faucets untreated.
Despite being the source of four major river systems supplying 17 states, Colorado experienced nearly 20 years of drought conditions. The Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan could save the river by sharing its water more equitably.
An average annual rainfall of 51 inches may no longer be enough to recharge Florida’s freshwater aquifers as high growth rate stress the water supply and increase saltwater intrusion. Refilling aquifers with excess runoff and treated wastewater could help.
Water filtration plants that purify drinking water for cities cost around $10 billion to build and $100 million to run. But New York City has invested $1.7 billion to protect its pristine water supply so that 90% of its one billion gallons a day, safely hits faucets untreated.
By 2050, Cleveland’s average annual temperature could rise by more than 5°F, giving it a climate similar to present-day Kentucky, 350 miles to the south. With access to the Great Lakes, Cleveland could at least cool down with a relatively steady water supply.
When a severe drought hit New Mexico, some farmers were forced to abandon their fields with water extractions limited to under one third of normal. However, some farmers have switched to planting more drought-resistant crops like beans.
San Diego is one of America’s fastest growing cities with over 1.4 million citizens to provide for. The Carlsbad Desalination Plant near San Diego turns 100 million gallons of seawater into 50 million gallons of freshwater every day.
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We waste up to 20 gallons of water each time we pre-rinse our dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. Join the movement to help your household save 2995 gallons of water per year.

Join the movement. Skip the rinse.

Gallons saved

For each pledge, Finish will donate $1 to The Nature Conservancy*. Together, we can help America save 150 billion gallons of water in one year.

Thank you! Your pledge to Skip the Rinse is one step in helping save X gallons of wasted water. To show our appreciation, Finish has donated $1 to The Nature Conservancy*.

Read on to learn more about the United States water crisis and how to curb your water footprint.

*Between July 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, Finish will contribute $1 to The Nature Conservancy for every #SkipTheRinse pledge for a minimum contribution of $100,000 and a maximum contribution of $400,000. To learn more, visit https://www.finishdishwashing.com/skip/

Water in the United States


    Where our water goes

    From the snow-capped Rockies to the thundering Colorado River to Florida’s lush Everglades, America has no shortage of water...or does it?

  • video & article

    How long can the Colorado River keep running?

    The state’s thundering river is one of America’s mightiest, but it’s power is increasingly siphoned by ever-growing cities and farmland. What will it take to save this watery titan?

  • video & article

    Oregon’s snowpack story

    Oregon relies on snow that melts in the spring and supplies water through the summer. But what happens when it doesn’t?

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Nearly 70% of the planet’s surface is water
Only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh
Only 1% of freshwater is easily accessible
Total usable water = 0.007%

When clouds fill with too much water it falls as precipitation—mostly rain. The average global rainfall is 39 inches.
Evaporation from the sea forms clouds. Seawater can also be made into freshwater through desalination.
Water in streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs is called surface water.
Snow that collects on mountains is called snowpack. This is released as snowmelt that feeds surface water.
There are 81 million more people each year with global water demand set to grow 20-30% by 2050.
An estimated 80% of wastewater is untreated, contaminating water supplies with human, agricultural, and industrial pollutants.
In the U.S., almost a trillion gallons of water is lost to leaks each year. The average home leaks 10,000 gallons a year.
Water that seeps into the ground and collects in aquifers—subterranean areas that hold water—is called groundwater.
We waste water by running faucets, showers, sprinklers, and flushing unnecessarily.
By 2050, average temperatures could be 1°F to 5.7°F warmer, increasing global demand for water.
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Ways to save water

Knowing how and where we waste water can inspire us to take positive action. There are many things that each and every one of us can do to reduce our water consumption, and the actions we take as individuals can make a big difference. Collectively we need to reduce our water consumption to reduce the threat of severe water stress.

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An efficient modern toilet uses just 1.6 gallons of water per flush and could save an average family around 13,000 gallons per year

High efficiency shower heads can use as little as 0.75 gallons per minute , saving 11 gallons per shower

Switching from top loader to front loader saves up to 70% water, which is around 9,500 gallons of water per household per year

Not pre-rinsing before loading the dishwasher could save as much as 20 gallons of water and make the detergent more effective

Faucets fitted with flow-controlled aerators use no more than 1.5 gallons of water per minute, saving around 700 gallons per year

Switching from a clock timer to a WaterSense-labeled irrigation controller can save 7,600 gallons or more per year



Freshwater Crisis

There is the same amount of freshwater on earth as there always has been, but the population has exploded, leaving the world's water resources in crisis.

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