Expend effort that maintains one's status but does not make much progress toward a goal, as in He was just treading water from paycheck to paycheck. This idiom alludes to the term's literal meaning, that is, “keep one's head above water by remaining upright and pumping the legs.”
Words nearby tread water
How to use tread water in a sentence
Fluoride first entered an American water supply through a rather inelegant technocratic scheme.
When cities started adding chlorine to their water supplies, in the early 1900s, it set off public outcry.
Before anti-vaxxers, there were anti-fluoriders: a group who spread fear about the anti-tooth decay agent added to drinking water.
Placed in drinking water, fluoride can serve people who otherwise have poor access to dental care.
In secret, before the referendum, the council went ahead and fluoridated the water anyway.
Urbanity ushers in water that needs no apology, and gives a zest to the worst vintage.Pearls of Thought|Maturin M. Ballou
The two women had no intention of bathing; they had just strolled down to the beach for a walk and to be alone and near the water.
Mrs. Woodbury paints in oils and water-colors; the latter are genre scenes, and among them are several Dutch subjects.Women in the fine arts, from the Seventh Century B.C. to the Twentieth Century A.D.|Clara Erskine Clement
But there was a breeze blowing, a choppy, stiff wind that whipped the water into froth.
She threw out her arms as if swimming when she walked, beating the tall grass as one strikes out in the water.