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Some 80% of wastewater worldwide goes back into ecosystems without getting treated for pollution. Human-caused climate change is making droughts more common and water more scarce, threatening to displace tens to hundreds of millions in the next decade. People use water to grow crops, cool power plants, flush toilets and more. And global demand for water keeps climbing, with a projected rise of 20–30% over the next 30 years.
But if you just looked at sketches of the water cycle — the diagrams that pop up everywhere from elementary school textbooks to scientific publications — you wouldn’t know about this human impact. In fact, most water cycle diagrams don’t show humans affecting water at all, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience earlier this month by researchers from North America and Europe. Of 464 diagrams from a dozen countries they examined, only 15% depicted humans interacting with water.