Land & Water Stories

Fresh Water for Life on Earth

Fresh, clear water splashes against a white backdrop.
H20 Fresh water nurtures life. © Shutterstock / Fisher photostudio

For people and nature, water is life. 

But the planet’s freshwater systems are crashing. Globally, monitored freshwater species populations have declined by an average of 83% since 1970. We’ve lost 64% of the world’s wetlands since 1900, and just 37% of the world’s longest rivers remain unimpeded and free flowing.

Whether through drought or flooding, climate change is often most visibly expressed through water, and these impacts are only expected to increase in the years to come.

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The good news is that investing in nature offers a clear pathway to protecting and restoring the freshwater systems on which nature and people depend.

With water at the heart of the climate and biodiversity crises, safeguarding the world’s fresh water—its rivers, wetlands, groundwater and ecosystems—is core to our 2030 Goals.

The Urgency to Protect Fresh Water

  • Icon of a great blue heron in a marsh.


    The world has lost nearly one-third of its freshwater ecosystems since 1970.

  • Icon of a fish blowing bubbles in water.


    Monitored freshwater populations have declined by an average of 83% since 1970.

  • Icon of a river flowing through trees.


    TNC's goal is to conserve 1 million kilometers of the world's rivers by 2030.

  • Icon of cattails in a marsh.


    TNC also aims to conserve 30 million hectares of lakes and wetlands by 2030.

Fresh Water on the Global Stage

Fresh water is at the top of the global agenda this month as the United Nations holds its first water conference in more than 40 years. 

From March 22 to 24, leaders from around the world will gather in New York for the UN 2023 Water Conference—formally known as the “2023 Conference for the Midterm Comprehensive Review of Implementation of the UN Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation (2018-2028).” 

Split view above and under water showing salmon in a Montana river.
Fresh water for salmon Kokanee salmon in Montana's Clearwater River. © Steven Gnam

Why Is the UN Water Conference Important? 

In the 40-plus years since the UN's last water conference, the global water crisis has accelerated significantly and the need for global action has become more urgent than ever. 

The UN 2023 Water Conference comes on the heels of COP27 (UN Climate Conference) and COP15 (UN Biodiversity Conference), both of which saw meaningful progress made on water issues. Leaders from around the world will seek to build on this momentum and set the tone for global water action from now to 2030 and beyond. 

Close-up of water flowing over the crest of Niagara Falls in New York.
Water in Motion The crest of Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls, New York. © Kyle Lowry/TNC Photo Contest 2022

Why Is TNC at the UN Water Conference? 

TNC is focused on elevating nature’s role in addressing the diverse water challenges countries around the world are facing.  We’re heartened by the progress made at both COP27 and COP15, but we know there is much more to do. TNC stands ready to help countries around the world realize their bold ambitions.

A man stands in a river, backlit by the sun, water droplets splashing all around him.
Water for humanity Along Eastern Europe's Krupa River and around the world, clean, fresh water is essential for our lives. © Ciril Jazbec

How Is TNC Stepping Up for Fresh Water?

In addition to advocating for nature as a key pathway for addressing the global water crisis, TNC is doubling down on its commitment to freshwater conservation around the world. By 2030, TNC aims to conserve 1 million kilometers of rivers and 30 million hectares of lakes and wetlands to benefit tens of millions of people. To deliver on this commitment, we will invest $250 million over the next seven years in partnership with the public and private sector through projects around the world.

Protecting Our Water: Every Drop Connects Us (2:10) Through rivers, lakes, wetlands and springs beneath our feet, water connects every living thing on the planet. Freshwater habitats cover less than 1% of the planet’s total surface, and yet they are some of the most diverse in the world.

Dive Deeper into TNC’s Commitment to Fresh Water

TNC’s commitment to freshwater conservation dates back to our earliest days as an organization. In fact, our first ever conservation project was to establish New York’s Mianus Gorge Preserve, which helps protect the Mianus River and now spans more than 900 acres. Today our freshwater portfolio is more than 450 projects strong and touches nearly every region of the world.

Explore some of the many ways we’re addressing the world’s water challenges:

Aerial view of two people dressed in winter outerwear and wearing helmets setting up a red tent on the surface of an ice floe.
Setting up camp Campers in the top crater of Mt. Herdubreid, Iceland. © Sigtryggur Johannsson