It may seem counterintuitive, but growing plants in water actually use less water than growing the same plants in soil. In fact, hydroponic plants can grow with up to 98 percent less water than traditional growing methods.

Why is this important? According to a 2019 report from the World Health Organization, only 71 percent of the world’s population has a safely-managed water drinking service. By 2025, half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas. Conserving water is likely to become more and more crucial as time goes on, making irrigation for agriculture more difficult and less profitable.

Of the water taken in through a plant’s roots, only about 0.1 percent of the water taken in is actually used by the plant itself. Most are then released into the air through evapotranspiration. Hydroponics systems make use of recirculated water, allowing plants to absorb what they need, then return the rest to the system.

As global food production continues to increase year over year, it’s consuming more water than ever before. It’s estimated that it takes about 3 gallons of water to produce a single cup of lettuce through traditional methods. 2.7 ounces serving of broccoli takes about 11 gallons of water to produce. And for every 4.3 ounces of tomatoes you consume, 8 gallons of water have been used in the growing process. It seems that if we want to be serious about conserving water, hydroponics is an important part of the process.

The crops here grow year round and under relatively little stress, because conditions in the greenhouse, including the amount of sunlight and the temperature, are monitored closely by sensors. Water evaporation is also minimal.

In order for the world’s food producers to keep up with a growing population’s food demands, they’ll have to increase agricultural development one way or another. If the status quo is maintained, the required boost in agriculture production could generate a 15% uptick in freshwater use. But the earth’s supply of freshwater — about 70% of which is already utilized by global agriculture — is under threat, due in part to global warming. Higher temperatures create a host of problems for the world’s water system, including faster evaporation, the disappearance of inland glaciers that feed freshwater supplies, and more extreme weather events that contribute to greater freshwater runoff.

Advancements in hydroponic technology, however, have led to the development of recirculating hydroponic systems, which minimize water use by recycling unused irrigation water.