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By the Numbers: How US Water Usage Has Changed Over Time

Environment June 20, 2018
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Lindsay Cutler

Although it may seem like the US is on the verge of a water crisis, truthfully, we’re doing significantly better than expected. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), our national water usage has decreased considerably since 1980, despite a 44 percent increase in population size and huge growth in US industry and economy across the board. The Pacific Institute backs up these trends, showing a 17 percent dip per capita in water use from 2005 to 2010 alone — levels not seen since in the US since the 1940s.

What does this mean? That our aggressive water conservation policies, put in place decades ago and cross-managed by a multitude of government agencies, are actually helping.

But it’s still not enough. There’s climate change and even greater increases in American consumption to contend with. But being a good citizen will only help so much; only 14 percent of the water in the US is being used for public supply in our cities and homes, while an estimated 80 percent is used for irrigation and thermoelectric power (and mainly in California, Texas and Idaho!).

Every five years the USGS conducts a comprehensive report on water usage at the national, state and county level. The latest stats from 2010 (it takes years to complete and the report from 2015 is still pending) paint a hopeful, if not unpredictable, picture of how we may continue to use water in this country in the future.


Figure 1: Total Water Use by Sector (1900–2010)


Via the Pacific Institute


Figure 2: Trends in population and freshwater withdrawals




Figure 3: Total Water Use by State in 2010



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