River in Colombia

Freshwater is the lifeblood of our planet

Less than 3% of our planet’s water is freshwater, yet this provides most of our drinking water. Despite being 1% of the world's landcover, freshwater ecosystems support 12% of all animals and 30% of all vertebrate species. 

Freshwater ecosystems – including lakes, rivers, wetlands, streams and underground aquifers – purify water, manage flooding, control sediment and upload nutrients through their resident plant species, they help to cool the planet and provide drinking water and irrigation. Freshwaters serve as transportation corridors for people, aquatic organisms and many species of wildlife. They provide food, hydroelectric power and economic and wellbeing resources via tourism and recreation. And who doesn’t love walking next to a babbling brook?


Issues facing freshwater ecosystems

Human activity and climate change are degrading freshwater habitats at a faster rate than terrestrial ecosystems. Watersheds are highly vulnerable to pollution, and yet take runoff from agriculture, manufacturing and urban areas. The creation of dams and water-diversion systems block migration routes for fish and disrupt habitats. Water withdrawal for increasingly unsustainable farming, industrial and housing needs shrink habitats. Wetlands are being drained resulting in a loss of biodiversity, and invasive species choke native habitats which then threatens wildlife. Frequent flooding combined with the sediment output from more frequent catastrophic wildfires is placing further stress on these essential systems.

Solutions to help freshwater ecosystems

Removing dams and impediments reinstates habitats and migratory routes. Improved filtration reduces sediment, nutrient, effluent, and pollution input. Restoring habitat and improving biodiversity by increasing native plants provides an ecological uplift. Improved urban planning and sustainable development, incorporating engineering with nature practices coupled with improved conservation measures that are sensitive to freshwaters, creates healthier and more resilient ecosystems as well as happier and healthier residents. Improved municipal drainage and sewage treatment will avoid much of the pollution that is damaging freshwater ecosystems.


  1. Take showers instead of baths
  2. Only fill up the kettle with what you need
  3. Harvest rainwater for the garden
  4. Reduce plastic bottle use and dispose of it properly
  5. Don’t flush rubbish down the toilet
  6. Reduce use of toiletries containing microplastics
  7. Dig a pond in your garden
  8. Join a local wildlife or rivers trust
  9. Enjoy ponds, streams, canals and rivers with your children and educate them about how important they are

Ramboll's work supporting freshwater ecosystems

Click below to read more about projects and news related to this ecosystem