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USGS Report Signals Trend: More People Using Less Water
Released: 10/6/1998

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Wayne Solley 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-5670

Search water-use data online by county and watershed: http://water.usgs.gov/public/watuse/

Newly released statistics on water use by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) show that the nation is using less water-- 402 billion gallons per day (bgd) for all uses, which is 2 percent less than in 1990 and nearly 10 percent less than in 1980, despite a continuous increase in population over that same time period.

Freshwater per-capita use also decreased for 1995. Total per-capita use was 1,280 gallons per day (gal/d), compared to 1,340 gal/d in 1990. The USGS has compiled and reported national water-use statistics once every 5 years since 1950.

After continual increases in the nation’s total use of surface and ground water for the years reported from 1950 to 1980, water use declined and has remained fairly constant since the mid-1980s, according to the USGS report.

"If you were to ask people if the nation was using more or less water now than say 15 or 20 years ago, the vast majority probably would say that we are using more water now," said Robert Hirsch, USGS chief hydrologist. "The overall decline in water use is an encouraging signal."

"The nation is clearly using surface- and ground-water resources more efficiently," Hirsch said. "Enhanced citizen awareness of the value of water and conservation programs in many communities across the country have helped to cut water use in spite of continued population growth. Improved irrigation techniques and more efficient use of water by industry have contributed to reduced water use as well."

Long-term concerns remain about the quality of available water, however. "With increased demands for water for instream uses such as river-based recreation, esthetic enjoyment and fish and wildlife habitat, the overall competition for good quality water will continue to increase," Hirsch said.

Irrigation is the top freshwater use category--134 bgd in 1995. When fresh and saline water are combined, more water continues to be withdrawn for thermoelectric power generation (190 bgd, of which 58 bgd is saline) than for any other category.

In a state-by-state comparison, California accounts for the largest total water use (46 bgd), followed by Texas, Illinois and Florida. Two dozen states and Puerto Rico had less water withdrawn during 1995 than during 1990.

The USGS water-use report, searchable by county and watershed, along with an expanded section on trends, is available on the World Wide Web at: http://water.usgs.gov/public/watuse/

Single copies of the 71-page report (with numerous tables, charts, and diagrams of source, use, and disposition of water), published as Estimated use of water in the United States in 1995, (USGS Circular 1200) are available free upon request to USGS Information Services, Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO, 80225; or telefax requests to: 303-202-4693. Please be sure to specify USGS Circular 1200.

(See attached "Selected Water-Use Highlights" for further details from the report. The attached graphic, "Freshwater Withdrawals and Population in the United States" is available for downloading from the WWW site listed above.)

(Note to Editors: Copies of the report are available for reporters and editors from Customer Relations and Communications, USGS, 440-W National Center, Reston, VA 20192, or by fax request to 703-648-5644, attn: Gail Wendt.)

This press release and in-depth information about USGS programs may be found on the USGS home page: http://www.usgs.gov . To receive the latest USGS news releases automatically by email, send a request to listproc@listserver.usgs.gov . Specify the listserver(s) of interest from the following names: water-pr; geologic-hazards-pr; biological-pr; mapping-pr; products-pr; lecture-pr. In the body of the message write: subscribe (name of listserver) (your name). Example: subscribe water-pr joe smith.


Selected Water-Use Highlights in the United States from USGS Circular 1200:

* Where Do People Get Their Water From?--About 84 percent of the nation’s population are served by public water-supply systems. The remaining 16 percent are served by their own water-supply systems. Ground water was the source for 99 percent of self-supplied domestic use. Domestic water use includes water for normal household purposes, such as drinking, food preparation, bathing, washing clothes and dishes, flushing toilets, and watering lawns and gardens. Public supply refers to water withdrawn by public and private water suppliers and delivered to multiple users for domestic, commercial, industrial and thermoelectric power uses. Public supply (as defined in the USGS report) includes public and private water systems that furnish water to at least 25 people, or that have a minimum of 15 connections. Of public water-supply withdrawals, 56 percent was for domestic use. Surface water is the source for 63 percent of public-supply withdrawals and ground water accounts for 37 percent.

* West vs. East in Consumptive Use--Total freshwater consumptive use is estimated to have been about 100 bgd during 1995, or 6 percent more than during 1990. Consumptive use is that part of water withdrawn that is evaporated, transpired, or incorporated into products or crops. Consumptive use by irrigation accounts for the largest part of total consumptive use--an estimated 81 bgd for 1995. Freshwater consumptive use in the East is about 12 percent of withdrawals in the East. By comparison, consumptive use in the West is about 47 percent of withdrawals. The higher consumptive use in the West is attributable to the 90 percent of water withdrawn for irrigation.

* Less Irrigation Water Used--Total irrigation withdrawals steadily increased for the years reported from 1950 to 1980 and then gradually decreased from 1980 to 1995. Irrigation withdrawals during 1995 (134 bgd) were 2 percent less than during 1990 and 1985. The average amount of water applied for irrigation in the United States during 1995 was about 2.1 acre-feet per acre. An acre-foot is the volume of water required to cover one acre of land (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot and is a common unit of measure for water, particularly in the West. The 1995 irrigation application rate is well below the 1975 and 1980 average of 2.5 acre-feet per acre. The decline in application rates is the result of improved irrigation techniques, implementation of more efficient irrigation systems, and because application rates in the eastern United States tend to be less than in the western United States.

* Making Good Use of Water Again and Again--The use of reclaimed wastewater is estimated to have been 1,020 Mgal/d (million gallons per day) during 1995, which is more than double the amount used in the 1970s and 1980s. Wastewater is water released from private and public wastewater-treatment facilities after use. The releases can be returned either to the natural environment or reclaimed for beneficial uses, such as irrigation of golf courses and parks. Illinois and Ohio, which have large public-supply withdrawals, reported the largest releases of treated wastewater. Florida, California and Arizona also reported large uses of reclaimed wastewater.

* Quick Check on Trends--Looking at the percentage of change in water use by category for 1990 and 1995 shows that public supply increased by 4 percent, rural domestic and livestock use increased 13 percent, thermoelectric power use was down 3 percent, other industrial use was down 3 percent, irrigation was down 2 percent, total withdrawals were down 2 percent, hydroelectric power use was down 4 percent, and the use of reclaimed wastewater was up by 36 percent.

1995 Estimated Water Use in the United States report (in Adobe PDF format) is available on the WWW at: http://water.usgs.gov/watuse/pdf1995/html/

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