Environment (other)

What Are Water Resources? - Definition and Examples

German Portillo
By German Portillo. October 23, 2023
What Are Water Resources? - Definition and Examples

Water resources are the natural sources of water which are useful to human society. While this water will be important for all life on the planet, it is sometimes not directly accessible to other forms of terrestrial animals. This means these water resources need to be extracted. While there is an abundance of water on our planet, not all of it is useful in the same way. Most of the planet is covered by water, but only a fraction of this water is fresh. The rest is salt water found in the seas and oceans.

Despite being one of the most abundant natural resources, water resources are under threat. Water scarcity is a significant danger for human existence and it does not affect all societies equally. thedailyECO learns more by asking what are water resources? We provide a definition and examples of aquatic resources, as well as demonstrating their vital importance.

You may also be interested in: What Are Sea Waters or Ocean Waters?


  1. Water resources definition
  2. Types of water resources
  3. Importance of water resources
  4. Reasons why water resources are threatened

Water resources definition

We can define water resources as sources of water that play a vital role in the daily lives of humans. While they are vital for ecosystems in general, we consider them resources specifically because they allow the survival of our species. There are various types of water resources that provide fresh water for human consumption, agriculture, energy generation and other uses.

The quantity and configuration of water resources varies depending on the geographic region. In some places it is abundant, in others it is particularly scarce. There are also various polluting agents and activities that threaten the protection of water resources. These require concerted effort to conserve water resources and ensure they are not polluted to the extent they are no longer useful.

It is well known that two-thirds of the Earth's surface is submerged in water. Around 97.5% of this total water is contained in the oceans, including salt and brackish water. While this water is important for various marine life and functions, it is less useful for many human applications. It requires treatments such as desalination to become useful. Even in these cases, the quality of the water can be detrimentally affected.

As a result, only 2.5% of Earth's water is freshwater. This freshwater is found in the following resources:

  • 68.9% is found in the planet's polar caps and glaciers.
  • 30.1% can be found in underground aquifers.
  • Only 0.4% of surface fresh water is left for direct use.

In principle, water resources do not have a specific use because they are considered raw natural resources. These raw water resources can be used in various human applications, including:

  • Agriculture: used to water crops and other vital applications.
  • Livestock industry: livestock animals need water for survival.
  • Chemical industry: to obtain hydrogen and oxygen or provide fuel for controlled chemical reactions.
  • Urban consumption: providing fresh water to our homes for cooking, showering or cleaning.
  • Mining: separate valuable components from the rest of the soil.
  • Dynamic industry: in a hydroelectric plant, or power plant, steam is used to generate electricity.

While these are some of the most important industrial applications of water resources, all human activity requires the exploitation of water resources to some degree. Learn more about where these resources can be found with our article on what are examples of natural regions?

What Are Water Resources? - Definition and Examples - Water resources definition

Types of water resources

Although we have already explained the general sources of aquatic resources, we can look into greater detail at the examples of water resources for human use. The following are some of the most important types of water resources:

  • Rivers: rivers are streams of water that flow across the earth's surface. They are an important source of fresh water and often supply cities, towns and entire regions. This is why many of the most important urban communities were established on a riverside. Additionally, rivers play a crucial role in irrigating crops and generating hydroelectric power. Discover the longest rivers in the world with our related guide.

  • Lakes and lagoons: generally larger and more stable than rivers, these bodies of water are another important water resource. Lakes store large amounts of fresh water and can supply drinking water to surrounding communities. In addition, they are important habitats for various species of plants and animals. In this related article you can learn the difference between lake and lagoon.

  • Aquifers: aquifers are underground water deposits found in the porous layers of soil or rock. They represent an essential source of groundwater, which is extracted through wells. Many areas depend on aquifers to supply drinking water to the population and for agriculture.
  • Glaciers: glaciers are huge masses of ice formed by the accumulation of snow and ice over long periods of time. They are considered important water resources, since they provide fresh water in the form of snowmelt. Glaciers supply rivers and lakes, and their gradual melting contributes to the recharge of aquifers. Icebergs are broken from glaciers, but it is so difficult to extract the water.

  • Reservoirs: reservoirs are large artificial bodies of water created by blocking rivers with dams. These bodies of water regulate the flow of rivers, storing water during periods of abundant rainfall and gradually releasing it during times of scarcity. In addition to providing water for human consumption and agriculture, reservoirs are also used to generate hydroelectric power.

  • Wetlands: wetlands are areas where water is present permanently or temporarily, creating a unique habitat for numerous species of plants and animals. These ecosystems act as natural filters, purifying water and contributing to the recharge of underground aquifers. Additionally, wetlands are also important for controlling floods and protecting coastlines from erosion. Our article on what is a wetland delves deeper into the subject.

  • Seawater: although seawater is not potable for human consumption, it can be used for other purposes. These include power generation through tidal power plants or desalination to obtain fresh water. Desalination is a process by which salt is removed from seawater, converting it into usable fresh water.

Importance of water resources

Now we know about where our water resources come from and their applications, we look at the importance of aquatic resources:

  • Water resources play a vital role in our lives and in the functioning of ecosystems. Their importance is undeniable and affects all aspects of our society to varying degrees.

  • One of the most important factors is that water resources are essential to our drinking water supply. Fresh water from rivers, lakes, aquifers and other sources is necessary to meet our daily consumption, hygiene and sanitation needs. Without access to clean and safe water, humans would not survive.

  • In addition to human consumption, water resources are essential for agriculture. Crop irrigation relies heavily on rivers, reservoirs and groundwater to keep fields productive and feed a growing population. Without enough water, food production would be compromised and we could face shortages and famine. Learn about aquatic resources used specifically for agriculture with our article with a definition of what is aquaculture?

  • Another crucial aspect is the generation of hydroelectric energy. Especially rivers with dams and reservoirs are an important source of renewable energy.

  • They also support incredible biodiversity. Rivers, lakes and wetlands are home to a wide variety of species of plants, animals and other living beings which depend on water to survive. These aquatic ecosystems are essential habitats and are part of complex food chains.

  • In addition to their importance to ecoregions and human life, water resources also have recreational and cultural value. Lakes, rivers and beaches provide spaces for leisure, water sports, fishing and relaxation.

Unfortunately, our water resources are under threat. Understanding the importance of water resources shows how we need to protect them.

What Are Water Resources? - Definition and Examples - Importance of water resources

Reasons why water resources are threatened

With aquatic resources being so important for human survival, it is imperative we take their threats very seriously. The following are some of the world's main water resources are under threat:

  • Over-extraction for agriculture: agriculture is the largest consumer of freshwater worldwide. Excessive irrigation practices, particularly in arid regions, lead to the depletion of aquifers and surface water sources. The demand for water to grow crops often exceeds the rate at which aquifers can recharge.

  • Industrial use: industries require vast amounts of water for various processes, including manufacturing, cooling and energy production. Discharging heated water back into rivers or other sources can disrupt ecosystems, making water less usable for other purposes.

  • Urbanization: the world's population is increasingly moving to urban areas, where water demand is higher. Urbanization leads to the expansion of infrastructure, which can alter natural water systems, reduce groundwater recharge and increase pollution. Learn about another threat caused by urbanization with our article on the heat island effect.

  • Climate change: changes in weather patterns and increased temperatures due to climate change affect precipitation and evaporation rates. Droughts are becoming more frequent and severe in some regions, reducing water availability.

  • Deforestation: removing forests disrupts the water cycle. Trees play a crucial role in capturing rainwater, reducing runoff, and replenishing groundwater.

  • Pollution: contamination from industrial, agricultural and municipal activities makes water sources unfit for human consumption and ecosystem health. Pollution often necessitates costly treatment processes. Discover one of the main threats to marine life with our article on plastics in the ocean.

  • Dams and infrastructure: dams and reservoirs are built for water storage, flood control, and energy production. While they serve vital purposes, they can alter natural river ecosystems and contribute to sedimentation and evaporation.

  • Population growth: as the global population increases, so does the demand for freshwater. This puts additional stress on water resources.

  • Lack of sustainable management: inadequate management, inefficient water use and a lack of regulatory frameworks for water conservation exacerbate the depletion of water resources.

  • Land use changes: changing land use from natural areas to agriculture or urban development can disrupt the balance of local water systems.

  • Aquifer depletion: over-pumping of underground aquifers is common in many regions. Once depleted, these aquifers can take centuries to recharge.

  • Rivers drying up: some rivers, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions, are running dry due to a combination of reduced precipitation, increased demand and over-extraction.

Efforts to address water resource depletion include improved water management practices, water recycling, desalination and sustainable agricultural and industrial practices. Conservation, policy changes, and global cooperation are essential to safeguarding our natural water resources.

Our use of the sea is also affecting water resources. Discover one approach to marine management which can help us to maintain these aquatic resources with our article on what is the blue economy?

If you want to read similar articles to What Are Water Resources? - Definition and Examples, we recommend you visit our Environment (other) category.

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What Are Water Resources? - Definition and Examples