Fresh water (or freshwater) is any naturally occurring water except seawater and brackish water. Fresh water includes water in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, icebergs, bogs, ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and even underground water called groundwater. Fresh water is generally characterized by having low concentrations of dissolved salts and other total dissolved solids. Though the term specifically excludes seawater and brackish water, it does include mineral-rich waters such as chalybeate springs.
Fresh water is not the same as potable water (or drinking water). Much of the earth's fresh water (on the surface and groundwater) is unsuitable for drinking without some treatment. Fresh water can easily become polluted by human activities or due to naturally occurring processes, such as erosion.
Water is critical to the survival of all living organisms. Some organisms can thrive on salt water, but the great majority of higher plants and most mammals need fresh water to live.
The term "sweet water" is used to describe fresh water in contrast to salt water.
Fresh water habitats are divided into lentic systems, which are the stillwaters including ponds, lakes, swamps and mires; lotic, or running-water systems; and groundwater which flows in rocks and aquifers. There is, in addition, a zone which bridges between groundwater and lotic systems, which is the hyporheic zone, which underlies many larger rivers and can contain substantially more water than is seen in the open channel. It may also be in direct contact with the underlying underground water.