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Data release for Integrating physical and economic data into experimental water accounts for the United States: lessons and opportunities

October 7, 2020

Water provides society with economic benefits that increasingly involve tradeoffs, making accounting for water quality, quantity, and their corresponding economic productivity more relevant in our interconnected world. In the past, physical and economic data about water have been fragmented, but integration is becoming more widely adopted internationally through application of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts for Water (SEEA-Water), which enables the tracking of linkages between water and the economy over time and across scales. In this paper, we present the first national and subnational SEEA-Water accounts for the United States. We compile accounts for: (1) physical supply and use of water, (2) water productivity, (3) water quality, and (4) water emissions. These cover state and national levels for roughly the years 2000 to 2015. The results illustrate broad aggregate trends as well as subnational or industry-level phenomena. Specifically, the accounts show that total U.S. water use declined by 22% from 2000 to 2015, continuing a national trend seen since 1980. Total water use fell in 44 states, though groundwater use increased in 21 states. Nationally, a larger percent of water use comes from groundwater than at any time since 1950. Reductions in water use, combined with economic growth, lead to increases in water productivity for the entire national economy (65%), mining (99%), and agriculture (68%), though substantial variation occurred among states. Surface-water quality trends for the years 2002 to 2012 were most evident at regional levels, and differ by water-quality constituent and region. Chloride, nitrate, and total dissolved solids levels in groundwater had more consistent and widespread water-quality declines nationally. This work provides a baseline of recent historical water resource trends and their value in the U.S., as well as roadmap for the completion of future accounts for water, a critical ecosystem service. Our work also aids in the interpretation of ecosystem accounts in the context of long-term trends in U.S. water resources.