Facts and Statistics: Did You Know?


“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water” – Benjamin Franklin

How much water do we have?

About 70 percent of the earth is water, but only 2.5 percent of that is freshwater. Of the freshwater, 68.9 percent is in the form of glaciers and snow cover, 30.8 percent is groundwater, and about 0.3 percent is in lakes and rivers.

What about in Canada?

  • 26 percent of Canadians rely on groundwater for domestic use. (Environment Canada: Water; http://www.ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=65EAA3F5-1)
  • About 60 percent of Canada’s freshwater drains north, while 85 percent of the population lives within 300 kilometres of the American border.
  • Henderson Lake, in British Columbia, receiving the most annual precipitation in Canada, gets 6,655 millimetres of precipitation each year.
  • The location in Canada that receives the least amount of precipitation is Eureka, Nunavut, where only 64 millimetres of precipitation fall each year.
  • Canada has 563 lakes that are larger than 100 square kilometres.
  • The Great Lakes contain 18 percent of the world’s freshwater.
  • The longest river in Canada is the Mackenzie River (Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta), which is 4,241 kilometres long. The largest lake entirely in Canada is Great Bear Lake (Northwest Territories), which has an area of 31,328 square kilometres. The deepest lake in Canada is Great Slave Lake (Northwest Territories), which has a depth of 614 metres.

Tell me a bit about the history of water treatment facilities.

  • In Canada and the United States, there are about 1,610,000 kilometres of pipeline and aqueducts, which is enough to circle the earth 40 times. (EPA Water Trivia Facts; http://water.epa.gov/learn/kids/drinkingwater/water_trivia_facts.cfm)
  • The first water pipes in the United States were made from fire charred bored logs. (EPA Water Trivia Facts; http://water.epa.gov/learn/kids/drinkingwater/water_trivia_facts.cfm)
  • The first municipal water filtration works was opened in Paisley, Scotland, in 1832.
  • Methods to improve the taste and odour of water occurred as early as 4000 B.C., when Sanskrit and Greek people recommended charcoal filtering, exposure to sunlight, boiling and straining.
  • In 1855, an epidemiologist named John Snow showed that cholera was a waterborne disease; he showed this by linking an outbreak in London with a contaminated well.
  • In the late 1880s, Louis Pasteur demonstrated the “germ theory” of disease, which showed how microscopic organisms could transmit diseases through water.
  • In 1908, chlorine was used for the first time as a primary disinfectant of drinking water in the United States.
  • In the United States, federal regulations of drinking water quality began in 1914.

Here are some more interesting facts about water.

  • Water is the only substance that naturally exists in three states (solid, liquid, gas) on earth.
  • Water expands by 9 percent when it freezes.
  • March 22 is World Water Day, as declared by the United Nations.
  • One litre of water weighs about one kilogram.
  • Saskatchewan’s name comes from the Plains Cree word kisiskatchewan, which means “the river that flows swiftly.”
  • By the time you feel thirsty, your body has already lost more than one percent of its total water. (All About Water: 10 Reasons to Drink Water; http://www.allaboutwater.org/drink-water.html)

What do you know about rain?

  • One inch of rain on an area of one kilometre by one kilometre is equivalent to 25,400 litres of water, which is equal to about 134 bathtubs of water! (USGS Water Q & A: Water Use at Home; https://water.usgs.gov/edu/mqanda.html)
  • Raindrops are not shaped like teardrops. Small raindrops are spherical, and larger raindrops are shaped like hamburger buns. (USGS: Are raindrops shaped like tears? https://water.usgs.gov/edu/raindropshape.html)

Just how important is water?

How much does water cost? What does this have to do with human rights?

  • In the United States, the average person pays 25 cents for their water each day. (EPA Water Trivia Facts; https://www3.epa.gov/safewater/kids/water_trivia_facts.html)
  • It costs over $3.5 billion to operate the American water systems each year. (EPA Water Trivia Facts; https://www3.epa.gov/safewater/kids/water_trivia_facts.html)
  • In many developing countries, the only way to get safe drinking water is through private vendors, who charge up to ten times more than piped water would cost. In many African cities, up to 80 percent of the population gets their water this way. In Namibia, up to 20 percent of the family income is spent on water (plus, they have to pay to use the toilet). (2003 International Year of Freshwater Facts and Figures)
  • African and Asian women walk an average of 6 kilometres for each trip to get water.

How much water do I use?

The average Canadian uses about 335 litres of water each day for domestic purposes (compared with the average American who uses 380 litres, the average Italian, who uses 250 litres, and the average Swede, who uses 200 litres of water each day). (Environment Canada: Every Drop Counts) You’re probably thinking, I don’t use THAT much water. Here are some statistics about where the water is used:

  • Globally, 69 percent of withdrawn water is for agriculture, 23 percent is for industrial purposes and 8 percent is for domestic purposes. (2003 International Year of Freshwater Facts and Figures)
  • Of residential water use in Canada, 35 percent is used for bathing and showering, 30 percent is used for flushing the toilet, 20 percent is used for laundry, 10 percent is used in the kitchen and for drinking, and 5 percent is used for cleaning.

How could I possibly use 335 litres of water in one day?

  • One flush of the toilet uses 15 to 19 litres of water, but a low-flush toilet uses only 6 litres of water per flush.
  • Each year, approximately four percent of toilets in Toronto homes are replaced. If all the replaced toilets were low-flush units for ten years, the city would save about 26 million litres of water each day. This would also eliminate about $60 million in water and sewage treatment capacity. (thestar.com: Mayors float ban on wasteful toilets; 
  • A five minute shower uses 100 litres of water, but a five minute shower with a reduced-flow showerhead uses less than half of this.
  • One dishwasher cycle uses about 40 litres of water, and hand washing the dishes uses about 35 litres of water.
  • Leaving the tap running while you wash your hands uses about 8 litres of water.
  • Leaving the tap running while you brush your teeth uses about 10 litres of water.
  • One load of laundry uses about 225 litres of water. A front loading washing machine uses 40 to 60 percent less water than a top loading washing machine.

Drip, drip, drip:


  • On average, 50 to 70 percent of household water is used outdoors for watering lawns and gardens. (EPA Be Hydro- logical; https://www3.epa.gov/safewater/kids/behyrdological.html)
  • Outdoor watering uses 35 litres of water each minute.
  • A lawn sprinkler that sprays 19 litres per minute will, in one hour, use more water than ten flushes of the toilet, two five minute showers, two dishwasher loads, and one load of laundry.

What else is water used for?

The facts about bottled water:

  • Consumption of bottled water is increasing by 12 percent each year. (2003 International Year of Freshwater Facts and Figures)
  • In 1999, the average Western European drank 85 litres of bottled water (which is 46 percent of total bottled water sales), followed by the average North American, who drank 35 litres (20 percent of the total). (2003 International Year of Freshwater Facts and Figures)
  • Each year, over 89 billion litres of bottled water are sold. (2003 International Year of Freshwater Facts and Figures)

Getting rid of the bad stuff:

  • One milligram of free chlorine per litre of water can kill the E. coli bacteria in less than one minute, but it takes approximately 16 minutes to kill the Hepatitis A virus, 45 minutes to kill the Giardia parasite, and about 9600 minutes (6 to 7 days) to kill the Cryptosporidium parasite. (CDC Chlorine Disinfection Timetable; 

Pollution: Out of sight, out of mind?

  • Nitrogen and phosphorus are natural minerals, but 80 percent of nitrates, and 75 percent of phosphates that are found in lakes and rivers are added by humans. (EPA; https://www.epa.gov/)
  • Good sewage plants can only remove about half of the nitrogen and 30 percent of the phosphorus from domestic sewage. This means that between 90,718,474 and 226,796,18kilograms of phosphates enter American waterways (EPA; http://www.epa.gov/)
  • Eutrophication is a natural process that a lake undergoes over thousands or millions of years.During eutrophication, nutrients are added and the oxygen levels in the lake change and the ability of the lake to support organisms and ecosystems increases; during this process, it is
    common to see an increase in the number of plants that grow in and around the lake. Due to eutrophication, Lake Erie aged 15,000 years between 1950 and 1975, meaning that a process that would naturally take 15,000 years took only 25 years, because of the phosphorus and nitrogen that was added by humans. (EPA; http://www.epa.gov/)
  • American water is polluted by more than 907 million tonnes of sediment each year. (EPA; http://www.epa.gov/)
  • Farming accounts for the largest amounts of sediment pollution, but construction sites and strip mined areas (where there is bare earth) can lose up to 15,691 tonnes of sediment per square kilometre per year (which is 15 times higher than the normal cropland erosion rate). (EPA; http://www.epa.gov/)
  • Fertilizer use is more than 15 times higher than it was in 1945. Homeowners typically use 10 to 50 times more fertilizer than is required for healthy plants. (EPA; http://www.epa.gov/)
  • In developing countries, 70 percent of all industrial waste is dumped, untreated, into water
    sources. (2003 International Year of Freshwater Facts and Figures)
  • One drop of oil can make up to 25 litres of water unfit for drinking. (Environment Canada: Water; http://www.ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=65EAA3F5-1)
  • One gram of 2,4-D (a common household herbicide) can pollute 10 million litres of water. (Environment Canada: Water; http://www.ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=65EAA3F5-1)
  • One gram of PCBs can make up to one billion litres of water unsuitable for aquatic life. (Environment Canada: Water; http://www.ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=65EAA3F5-1)
  • One gram of lead can pollute 20,000 litres, and make it unfit for drinking. (Environment Canada: Water; http://www.ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=65EAA3F5-1)
  • Acid rain has a pH of 3.6, which is 100 times more acidic than normal rainwater, which has a pH of 5.6.

What's the diagnosis?

  • Half of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1900.
  • The United States loses more than 1,821 square kilometres of wetlands each year.
  • Canada has 25 percent of the world's wetlands, and 15 to 25 percent of the Prairies are wetlands.
  • The latest assessment of American surface waters found that, of those assessed, 39 percent of river and stream miles, 45 percent of lake, pond, and reservoir areas, and 51 percent of estuary areas were impaired.
  • In 2000, 57 percent of Canadians were served by wastewater treatment plants, compared with 74 percent of Americans, 86.5 percent of Germans, and 99 percent of Swedes. (Environment Canada: Water; http://www.ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=65EAA3F5-1)
  • As of February 28, 2014, there were 92 First Nations communities across Canada under a Drinking Water Advisory. (Health Canada Drinking Water and Wastewater; http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fniah-spnia/promotion/public-publique/water-eau-eng.php)
  • As of June 4, 2014, there were 1,177 Drinking Water Advisories across Canada. (WATERTODAY.CA, http://www.watertoday.ca/)
  • As of July 2007, SDWF estimates that more than 90 percent of First Nations communities in Canada have water treatment plants that cannot produce water that meets the Canadian Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality.

What kind of health concerns are associated with water?

  • 80 percent of diseases in developing countries are water-related.
  • 443 million school days are lost each year as a result of water-related illnesses. And at any
    given time, about half of all people in developing countries are suffering from health effects related to poor water or sanitation. 35 percent of all productivity (work, school, etc.) is lost because of people becoming ill from water-related illnesses. (United Nation Development Programme; http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home.html)
  • 60 percent of infant mortality is linked to infectious and parasitic diseases, most of which are water-related. (2003 International Year of Freshwater Facts and Figures)
  • Diarrheal diseases cause some 6000 deaths per day, most of which are children under the age of five. (2003 International Year of Freshwater Facts and Figures)
  • Diarrheal diseases have killed more children in the past ten years than all those killed by armed conflict since World War II. (2003 International Year of Freshwater Facts and Figures)
  • Up to 90 percent of all wastewater in developing countries is discharged directly into rivers and streams, without any treatment.
  • Unsafe drinking water causes an estimated 90 deaths and 90,000 illnesses in Canada each year. 

The Safe Drinking Water Foundation has educational programs that can supplement the information found in this fact sheet. Operation Water Drop looks at the chemical contaminants that are found in water; it is designed for a science class. Operation Water Flow looks at how water is used, where it comes from and how much it costs; it has lessons that are designed for Social Studies, Math, Biology, Chemistry and Science classes. Operation Water Spirit presents a First Nations perspective of water and the surrounding issues; it is designed for Native Studies or Social Studies classes. Operation Water Health looks at common health issues surrounding drinking water in Canada and around the world and is designed for a Health, Science and Social Studies collaboration. Operation Water Pollution focuses on how water pollution occurs and how it is cleaned up and has been designed for a Science and Social Studies collaboration. To access more information on these and other educational activities, as well as additional fact sheets, visit the Safe Drinking Water Foundation website at www.safewater.org.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 2007. Chlorine Disinfection Time Table. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/residential/disinfection-testing.html

Environment Canada. August 2000. Water. 

Health Canada: First Nations, Inuit and Aboriginal Health. June 2007. Drinking Water and Wastewater.

United Nations Development Programme. 2006. Human Development Report 2006. http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-2006

United States Environmental Protection Agency. February 2006. Be Hydro-Logical.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. February 2007. Water Facts of Life: Ride the
Water Cycle With These Fun Facts. https://www3.epa.gov/safewater/kids/waterfactsoflife.html

United States Environmental Protection Agency. February 2006. Water Trivia Facts.

United States Geological Survey: Water Science for Schools. September 2005. Are raindrops shaped like teardrops?

United States Geological Survey: Water Science for Schools. August 2005. Water Q&A: Water use at home. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/mqanda.html