As the world's leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation http://www.ducks.org/conservation, Ducks Unlimited is drawing attention to this month's milestone 9th Annual World Water Day. World Water Day is held annually on March 22 to focus attention on the importance of fresh water and to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year's theme is Water and Food Security.

"Water is our greatest natural resource," said DU CEO Dale Hall. "Unfortunately, it is often the one most taken for granted. Recognizing the importance of water to all of us is a critical first step in guaranteeing sufficient water quality and quantity around the world."

Freshwater supplies are already a limited resource in some places, as Texans dealing with water restrictions following last year's record drought can attest. As the world population grows from the current 7 billion to a projected 9 billion by 2050, water resources will be further strained. Conservation and restoration of wetland habitats http://www.ducks.org/conservation/habitat  will continue to be keys to ensuring a sufficient and usable water supply for future generations of people and wildlife.

"In addition to tremendous recreational and wildlife values, wetlands provide crucial ecological functions such as storm surge protection, flood water absorption, groundwater recharge, aquifer replenishment and water filtration," Hall said. "Ducks Unlimited conserves these vital habitats for waterfowl http://www.ducks.org/hunting/waterfowl-id, but the broader benefits of wetlands conservation to society should not be overlooked."

Wetlands help recharge the underground aquifers that store 97 percent of the world's unfrozen fresh water. Many Americans rely on groundwater for their drinking water, and with 17 percent of the world's croplands being irrigated heavy demand exists for uses beyond potable water. This makes the groundwater recharge ability of wetlands especially valuable. As an example, a 550,000-acre swamp in Florida has been valued at $25 million per year for its role in storing water and recharging the local aquifer.

Texas Mid-Coast rice producers can vouch for the importance of water availability. With the Lower Colorado River Authority's decision not to release water from the Highland Lakes for rice crops this year, the $374.3-million industry in three of Texas' poorest counties is feeling the strain of insufficient water supplies to meet all stakeholder needs.

As important as the water quantity functions of wetlands are, their role in improving and protecting water quality is equally vital. Plants and soils in wetlands play a significant role in purifying water, removing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and, in some cases, toxic chemicals. As Texas http://www.ducks.org/texas increases water re-use to help address its water shortages, the filtration and cleaning functions naturally provided by wetlands will be even more important.

"Ducks Unlimited is committed to conserving wetland habitats for future generations of waterfowl and people," Hall said. "We're celebrating 75 years of conservation accomplishments this year, and we intend to continue delivering our mission of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever."