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Water Resources

Water resources are sources of water that are useful or potentially useful to humans. It is important because it is needed for life to exist. Many uses of water include agricultural, industrial, household, recreational and environmental activities. Virtually all of these human uses require fresh water. Only 3% of water on the Earth is fresh water, and over two thirds of this is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps. Water demand already exceeds supply in many parts of the world, and many more areas are expected to experience this imbalance in the near future. The framework for allocating water resources to water users (where such a framework exists) is known as water rights.

Sources of fresh water

Surface water

Surface water is water in a river, lake or fresh water wetland. Surface water is naturally replenished by precipitation and naturally lost through discharge to the oceans, evaporation and sub-surface seepage. Although the only natural input to any surface water system is precipitation within its watershed, the total quantity of water in that system at any given time is also dependent on many other factors. These factors include storage capacity in lakes, wetlands and artificial reservoirs, the permeability of the soil beneath these storage bodies, the runoff characteristics of the land in the watershed, the timing of the precipitation and local evaporation rates. All of these factors also affect the proportions of water lost through discharge to the oceans, evaporation and sub-surface seepage.

Human activities can have a large impact on these factors. Humans often increase storage capacity by constructing reservoirs and decrease it by draining wetlands. Humans often increase runoff quantities and velocities by paving areas and channelizing stream flow. The total quantity of water available at any given time is an important consideration. Some human water users have an intermittent need for water. For example, many farms require large quantities of water in the spring, and no water at all in the winter. To supply such a farm with water, a surface water system may require a large storage capacity to collect water throughout the year and release it in a short period of time. Other users have a continuous need for water, such as a power plant that requires water for cooling. To supply such a power plant with water, a surface water system only needs enough storage capacity to fill in when average stream flow is below the power plant's need.

Nevertheless, over the long term the average rate of precipitation within a watershed is the upper bound for average consumption of natural surface water from that watershed. Natural surface water can be augmented by importing surface water from another watershed through a canal or pipeline. It can also be artificially augmented from any of the other sources listed here, however in practice the quantities are negligible. Humans can also cause surface water to be "lost" (i.e. become unusable) through pollution.

Sub-surface water

Sub-Surface water, or groundwater, is fresh water located in the pore space of soil and rocks. It is also water that is flowing within aquifers below the water table. Sometimes it is useful to make a distinction between sub-surface water that is closely associated with surface water and deep sub-surface water in an aquifer (sometimes called "fossil water"). Sub-surface water can be thought of in the same terms as surface water: inputs, outputs and storage. The critical difference is that for sub-surface water, storage is generally much larger compared to inputs than it is for surface water. This difference makes it easy for humans to use sub-surface water unsustainably for a long time without severe consequences. Nevertheless, over the long term the average rate of seepage above a sub-surface water source is the upper bound for average consumption of water from that source.

The natural input to sub-surface water is seepage from surface water. The natural outputs from sub-surface water are springs and seepage to the oceans.
If the surface water source is also subject to substantial evaporation, a sub-surface water source may become saline. This situation can occur naturally under endorheic bodies of water, or artificially under irrigated farmland. In coastal areas, human use of a sub-surface water source may cause the direction of seepage to ocean to reverse which can also cause salinization. Humans can also cause sub-surface water to be "lost" (i.e. become unusable) through pollution. Humans can increase the input to a sub-surface water source by building reservoirs or detention ponds. Water in the ground are in sections called aquifers. Rain rolls down and comes into these. Normally an aquifer is near to the equilibrium in its water content. The water content of an aquifier normally depends on the grain sizes. This means that the rate of extraction may be limited by poor permiability.


Desalination is an artificial process by which saline water (generally ocean water) is converted to fresh water. The most common desalinization processes are distillation and reverse osmosis. Desalinization is currently very expensive compared to most alternative sources of water, and only a very small fraction of total human use is satisfied by desalination. It is only economically practical for high-valued uses (such as household and industrial uses) in arid areas. The most extensive use is in the Persian Gulf.

Frozen water

Several schemes have been proposed to make use of icebergs as a water source, however to date this has only been done for novelty purposes. Glacier runoff is considered to be surface water.

Information source: Wikipedia

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