Protecting Water for People and Nature

Securing Water For Cities

Story Highlights
  • Over the next 20 years, global demands for food, energy, and shelter will put unprecedented pressure on the resources of the planet.
  • Water is at the heart of the crisis.
  • As the world’s population and our economies grow, demand for water is projected to rapidly increase, putting greater pressure on watersheds and the water security of communities around the world. At our current pace, by 2030 we could face a 40 percent gap between global water demand and accessible, reliable supply.
  • Cities are at the center of this global challenge.

Currently, over 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, cities will become home to roughly 2 billion more people and 70 percent of the global population. Much of this growth is occurring in regions already experiencing water scarcity or in cities with inadequate water systems.

Already today, over half of the world’s cities with populations over 100,000 are located in water-stressed areas. And, within the next decade, more than 65 percent of the world’s population will be living with water shortages.

The choices we make today about where and how that urban growth occurs will have a massive impact on our urban future.

The traditional approach to meeting demand for water services is through construction of large-scale “grey” infrastructure, such as water and wastewater treatment plants. Today, the world spends more than $500 billion a year on traditional water infrastructure systems—a figure that is projected to roughly double by 2020. But we cannot sustainably support the current pace of human and economic growth without changing the way cities are planned, built, operated, and financed.

There is a better way.

To create a more sustainable and efficient water future, we must integrate natural infrastructure into our built infrastructure solutions. We need to invest in solutions that protect, support, and enhance the rivers, lakes, wetlands and forests on which we depend for our water. In addition to protecting our water at its source, natural infrastructure is often less expensive than grey infrastructure and can have considerable co-benefits – including vital support for food, recreation, cultural activities – for cities and for the local communities where the solutions are implemented.

Nature not only provides our freshwater, it can also help us efficiently and sustainably manage and protect it.

Our Solutions

The Nature Conservancy is working on a variety of strategies to protect water at its source, increase water efficiencies, and engage corporate and municipal leaders, governments, urban residents and other institutions in watershed stewardship. These strategies are being undertaken in cities and communities around the globe, including more than 20 of the world’s largest cities.

Learn more about our key initiatives to secure water for cities:

  • Financing Watershed Conservation. We are helping water users in and around cities – utilities, businesses and citizens – become principal investors in long-term strategies to protect water supplies through our innovative tool that helps finance conservation solutions in watersheds. We have established more than a dozen Water Funds in Latin America, North America and Africa, and have more than 20 in development. Learn more about our Water Funds strategy and our Water Funds in Latin America.
  • Engaging Companies as Water Stewards. We are working with a number of food and beverage companies to protect and invest in the water sources on which they and the communities in which they work rely. It’s good for business, it's good for local communities and it's good for nature. Learn more about our work with General Mills, where we are collaborating on efforts to secure freshwater for communities in Mexico.
  • Activating Urban Residents. Where Does Your Water Come From? It’s a simple question, but most people – including more than 75% of Americans – don’t know the answer when asked. Our new digital platform—H2.O—provides critical information on the global and local water challenges we face and details the sources of water for more than 200 U.S. cities.



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