Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle

By Tanmoy Kumar Paul

Source of freshwater

Water contains a minimum amount of dissolved salts and minerals which can distinguish from the seawater. Two third of our planet is covered with water but most of them are seawater which is not usable. 97.5% of the water we get is dissolved with salts and 2.5% only we can call freshwater. This 2.5% is not fully accessible, 68% are in the form of glaciers and ice caps (USGS. Gov).


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How they are getting replenished

These freshwaters are getting replenished by precipitation and that is the reason we have a continuous supply of freshwater. The water is visible on the earth is very easy to realize how much we have but one of the most important sources the underground water we can not measure how much we used and how much is left. We are mostly dependent on this water.

The use of freshwater increased more than 8 times since 1900. The reasons are the increase of population and increase agriculture, usage of water-intensive production, increased red meat consumption, industrial revaluation, the trend of fast fashion usage which increased textile production (R. Hannah & R. Max 2015).

After agriculture Fashion is the most water-intensive industry. It consumes water from the born of fiber to the dyeing and washing. It requires 7500 liters of water to make a single pair of jeans, 2700 liters for a t-shirt(Future fashion forward 2018). Then the using faze of the product also consumes water to wash.

How the fashion industry impact nature?

The most commonly used fiber used in the fashion industry is cotton. This is a very thirsty crop. It required a lot of irrigation. It takes almost 20,000 liters of water to cultivate one kg of cotton (Sustain your style a).

Cotton requires a lot of fertilizer and pesticides to keep the optimum quality. These are not absorbed by the plant. These are washed by rainwater and left at the soil and some of them go to the river and pollutes the water. The Aral sea dried up due to water demand on the cotton field near the bank of the rivers which were the source of water.

Fabric dyeing requires a lot of freshwaters. It takes up to 200 tons of freshwater to dye one ton of fabric. Lots of dyeing factories release this after dyeing water to nature which pollutes the river and canal waters. This temperature of the dyed water is a lot higher than the normal river water temperature. It makes the waters warmer and the biodiversity changes a lot due to temperature change (Sustain your style b).

Industrial garment washing is one of the major water-intensive processes. This is the process which makes the denim garment softer and worn look. It requires 10,000liter of water for each pair of jeans. The after wash water is also warm (The Logical Indian, 2017).

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Impact of over withdrawal the water

The underground water is the most used freshwater due to the availability and the quality of the water. We are withdrawing this water for a different purpose. This water gets replenished by the rainwater automatically. Our withdrawal speed is much more than the replenishing speed. As an impact, the water surface is going lower.

When the groundwater level goes down the ocean water tries to fill that empty place. So it becomes a kind of flood of saline water on the freshwater and makes the water salty. We can see this impact in coastal areas already and spreading day by day.

Large water bodies will be more shallow from groundwater depletion. Due to the lower level of water, it fills more rivers and lakes. It will make the water source smaller which will impact the aquatic life and wildlife.

Microfiber pollution

Every time we wash our synthetic clothing it releases 700.000 microfibers that go with water. And their ultimate destination is the ocean. These small microfibers are ingested by aquatic organisms. These are eaten by small fish and they are the food of bigger fish. This way microplastics are entering our food chain (Sustain your style a).

How did we get here?

Before 19th-century dressmaking was such a difficult task. To make a shirt a person had to make all the processes by own. It starts from collecting wool, spins it to the yarn, weaves the cloth, and finally sews the garment by own hand. Industrial revaluation introduced the sewing machine and made the garment making faster. Different innovation and bulk production process made the fashion cheaper and affordable to all. The rise of fast fashion made it faster and easier access to all. It is even faster than every week you can get a new collection. This fast trend made the habit of buying more and more even which is not needed. Statistics show 40% of our clothes we never wear more than once.


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The shrinking of Aral sea

In 1950 the water of the Aral sea was largely untouched. It was located in Uzbekistan. Two rivers have replenished the sea. Sturgeon and other fish supported a modest fishing industry and boat served many fishing islands. After world war 2 government took on major water projects intending to boost economic output. The land around the sea was converted from pasture to cotton fields. Farming and other industries drew a considerable amount of water from the rivers that replenish the sea. From the 1980s water feeding into the Aral sea had become so scarce that the sea was evaporating away. The seas water level dropped by 50 feet by 1989. After the break up of the soviet union, regional governments tried to conserve water and forestall the demise of the sea. But their efforts were poorly coordinated. By 2000 the sea level declined by a total of 125 feet. The shoreline narrowed considerably. The sea divided first into smaller pools and then narrow lakes names as Nothern Aral sea and Southern Aral sea. By then they became 3 times saltier than before. Fish and other life died off, industrial chemical and salt carried by the dust of the land. Isolated islands became part of the mainland. Since 2005 the water project can keep the northern Aral sea filled but southern Aral could not survive. They are now part of a big desert with chemically polluted soil (Encycloplaedia Britannica).

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Next step to a better future

We are moving towards a shortage of drinking water. Already a lot of cities started facing the extreme water shortage during dry months. This number is increasing every year. The main reason is we are overusing the source. Planet has its system to replenish this resource but we are extracting more than the earth can replenish. As we can not live without water we have to use this resource more efficiently like

  • Produce water-efficient crops
  • Reduce red meat consumption
  • Avoid water intense fibers for instance cotton
  • Use efficient dyeing techniques which has less consumption of water
  • Integrate alternative option of industrial washing, for instance using laser treatment to bring the wash effect
  • Be responsible for consumption. Not buying those products which are not necessary. Manage closet responsibly.
  • Encourage to use 2nd hand.
  • Increase the product life span by using rental service




USGS. Gov. Freshwater (Lakes and Rivers) – The Water Cycle. Accessed on : 03/07/ 2020; Available at:

R. Hannah & R. Max 2015, Water use and stress- Accessed on 03/07/2020; Available at :

Future fashion forward, 2018. Fashion pollutes water. Should we really care? Accessed on 03/07/2020; Available at:

Sustain your style a. What´s wrong with the fashion industry? Accessed on 03/07/2020; Available at :

Sustain your style b. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world. Accessed on 03/07/2020; Available at:

The Logical Indian, 2017. It Takes Upto 10,000 Litres Of Water To Make One Pair Of Jeans, Know How It Affects The Environment. Accessed on 03/07/2020; Available at:

Encycloplaedia Britannica. Aral sea lake, central asia.  Accessed on 03/07/2020; Available at:

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