For most people in the U.S., water is something we have traditionally taken for granted. Unless you live somewhere very rural, chances are you expect water to come out of the tap when you turn it on. The average American uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day, and that amount only includes personal consumption rather than the indirect consumption from farming, ranching, industrial, and energy uses. (1)
Just like us, wildlife and plants depend on water, and its availability and quality can mean the difference between life and death. Water is a resource that we share with native wildlife, not to mention domestic animals and livestock. Our water usage impacts them and vice versa. As Water Quality Month, August is a great time to reflect on the role water plays in our lives and the lives of our wildlife neighbors.
Here are just a few of the ways water helps us and/or native wildlife:
- Breathing. It may seem counterintuitive for us, as humans, but certain animals like fish and amphibians actually use water to breathe. Fish, for instance, exchange dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from water via their gills. Amphibians do the same thing in their larval stage, and even as adults, they “breathe” through their thin skin.
- Drinking. Although it varies based on activity level, climate, health, and other factors, the average adult should drink between 2-3 litres (9-13 cups) of fluid daily. (2) There is too much variation between individual animals to estimate average fluid intake for each species but just imagine the type of range you might see between a thirsty adult mouse and a thirsty adult moose!
- Eating. Not everyone likes seafood or aquatic plants for dinner, but plenty of animals find those items delicious. In fact, in some cases, food that grows in the water is their only form of nutrition!
- Bathing/swimming. We bathe and swim to cool off, clean ourselves, and because it’s fun (well, at least the swimming part). Other animals use water for the same reasons which is why it’s so important to provide water sources in your backyard habitat.
VIDEO: Earlier this year, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources shared a video of a bear bathing in one of the agency’s installed water guzzlers back in 2011. Cool bear, happy bear.
- Raising young. Many animals, including fish, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, and others, spawn (release eggs and sperm) directly into water. For some species, the water’s current is necessary to make sure the eggs get fertilized.