WWF Canada Blog:
Fresh Water

News, views and analysis from our team as we work to create solutions to conservation challenges facing our planet.


Water: The stuff of, well, everything

By Stephanie Morgan
Communications Intern

This was especially on my mind on Canadian Rivers Day – yesterday, June 12.  Earlier last week, an enthusiastic group of interested citizens huddled into the Royal Ontario Museum, away from the heat and lightening of an early summer storm.  It wasn’t water we were trying to escape, however.  In fact, that is exactly what we were looking for: water, and an understanding of water management in the 21st century.

Tony did an excellent job of breaking down the way we use water into very understandable terms.  Here are an eye-opening few facts:

  • 1 L coffee takes 1,120 litres of water to make
  • 1 Smartphone microchip takes 16,000 litres of water to make
  • 1 KG of cotton textile takes 11,000 litres of water to make
  • 1 KG of beef takes between 15,000 and 70,000 litres of water to make

To further break down the last example, think about everything that a single cow needs to survive.  Of course it drinks water.  It also eats food, which is grown by using water. More water is used in the processing and shipment of the beef to your local grocer.  You can push even further by considering the amount of water used to build the car you take to the store, the gas you fill the car with, and so on, and so on.  I think you get the point!  Unfortunately, all of this water consumption comes at a cost to the health of our rivers.

(c) Mike Ambach/WWF-Canada

What Tony was there to explain is the critical fact that “water for nature is water for people.”  Healthy rivers don’t have to be sacrificed for us to get the water we need to live and lead comfortable lifestyles.  In essence, we all need freshwater to survive.  If we can help preserve this resource for the benefit of the natural world, we are helping ourselves as well.  The main focus of his talk was to emphasize the importance of how and why rivers flow.  The audience reflected on a quote Tony put on the screen by Martin Mittlestaedt of the Globe and Mail: “The seasonal waxing and waning of rivers is one of nature’s most crucial cycles, influencing everything from the success of salmon runs, to having water during parched summers to irrigate crops.”

Humans have had the ingenuity to create a way to harness the energy of water through building dams.  The cost has been the disruption and in some cases drying up of rivers, large and small.  We have also figured out how to use river water to irrigate crops, leading to the same end.  The list goes on.  Tony and his team here at WWF know that now is the time to act.  They are working closely with scientists and other experts to move toward a future with many healthy, flowing rivers.

So next time you’re thinking of buying that cup of coffee, the latest model of smartphone, a brand new t-shirt, or a steak from your favorite restaurant, stop everything.  Think about the health of streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands, near and far.