WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Only 1% of the World’s Fresh Water Is Accessible
Leading international health and environmental agencies recognize the significance of water for maintaining life and human existence, and the overall sustainability of our planet.
Only 3% of the earth’s water is fresh water, and of that, slightly over two-thirds is trapped in glaciers,1 which means that less than 1% of the world’s water is fresh and accessible.2 According to the United Nations Human Development Report, there is enough fresh water on the planet for seven billion people, but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed3.
According to the United Nations, our water resources will be most affected by climate change. The availability of water is becoming less predictable due to higher temperatures and more extreme weather conditions, distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows and groundwater all of which further deteriorate water quality.4 As result, water scarcity affects every continent. An increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered, especially in arid regions.5
Cost, Climate Change, and Water
The costs and consequences of managing potable and wastewater is an enormous burden on public funds. We habitually design water systems for wasteful behaviour and peaks of use that are inefficient. Through conservation, the benefits are reduced costs and emissions, and less disruption to the biosphere.
In developed nations like Canada, potable water often comes from a public water supply system far from the building site. Wastewater is then piped to a processing plant and discharged into a body of water. This pass-through system has an impact on rivers by depleting streamflow and freshwater aquifers which can cause tables to drop and wells to go dry.
The effort required to treat water for drinking, transport it to and from a building, and treat it for disposal also represents a significant amount of energy use. Understanding this connection between water consumption and energy use is critical to how we take a holistic approach to conserving fresh water sources and lessening the building industry’s impact on climate change.
Canada’s Water Consumption is Among the Highest
Below are some key statistics about global and local water usage:
- Water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century6. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages7
- Water stress is when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person8. The average person needs 5 litres of water to drink daily, to survive in a moderate climate with little activity9.
- When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces water scarcity, and below 500 m3 is termed absolute scarcity.10
- On average, Canadians use 250 litres of water per day in 2013. In total, household water use equates to 3.2 km3. That’s over 1.2 million Olympic swimming pools!11
- In 2017, Vancouverites used on average 475 liters of water per capita per day.12
- Canadians rank second only to the United States in terms of highest per capita water use in the developed world.13
- Canada’s price of water is among the lowest in the world and its consumption is among the highest.14
We Know How to Reduce Water Waste
And with more and more urbanization, adapting buildings to use water in smarter ways is a big opportunity to be ready for a future in which fresh water is likely both less consistently available and more expensive. We have the knowledge and technologies available to construct green buildings that use significantly less potable water than conventional construction by:
- incorporating native landscapes that reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation;
- capturing rainwater and reusing for landscape irrigation;
- reducing stormwater runoff by replicating natural site hydrology processes, using low-impact development (LID) and green infrastructure;
- installing water-efficient fixtures in kitchens, washrooms, and laundry rooms; and
- reusing, where possible, wastewater for non-potable water needs15.
- “Climate Change.” UN Water. (https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/climate-change/)
- “Scarcity.” UN Water. (https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/)
- “Freshwater in Canada: A look at Canada’s freshwater resources from 1971 to 2013.” Statistics Canada. (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/170321/g-b001-eng.htm)
- “Clean Water.” City of Vancouver (https://vancouver.ca/green-vancouver/clean-water.aspx)
- “FACTSHEET: WATER USE & CONSUMPTION IN CANADA.” Program on Water Governance. (http://watergovernance.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2010/04/FS_Water_Use.pdf)
- “Canadians Rank Among World Water Hogs.” Vancouver Sun. (http://www.vancouversun.com/Canadians+rank+among+world+water+hogs/11274891/story.html)
- LEED Canada Reference Guide for Green Building Design and Construction 2009