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Estimated use of water in Georgia for 2015 and water-use trends, 1985–2015

October 17, 2019

Water-withdrawal, water-use, and water-return information have been collected and compiled for each county in Georgia every 5 years since 1980 using data obtained from various Federal, State, and private agencies, as well as additional online sources. For 2015, water use, water withdrawal, and water returns were estimated for each county, water-planning region, major river basin, and principal aquifer in Georgia. Offstream water use in 2015 is estimated for the categories of domestic, commercial, industrial processing, mining, irrigation (subdivided into crop and golf course irrigation), livestock, aquaculture, and thermoelectric power cooling.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 10.2 million people in Georgia needed water resources to meet their personal, commercial, and recreational needs in 2015. Public water suppliers provided water to about 85 percent of the population of Georgia. Estimated total water withdrawals from both surface-water and groundwater sources were about 3,384 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) in 2015, which is a 27-percent reduction from 2010, a 48.1-percent reduction from 2000, and a 49.7-percent reduction from 1980. In 2015, surface-water withdrawals were greatest for thermoelectric power cooling (839.8 Mgal/d), and groundwater withdrawals were greatest for irrigating crops (547.9 Mgal/d). Water needs in northern Georgia are typically met by withdrawing a larger percentage of water from surface-water than groundwater sources; conversely, counties in southern Georgia withdraw more water from groundwater sources. About 1,571 Mgal/d of water were returned to Georgia streams and lakes in 2015, which represents about 46 percent of the total water withdrawn from all sources in 2015.

Water users in the Apalachicola River Basin, in 2015, withdrew the highest percentage of water (35 percent) and returned the highest percentage of water to surface-water bodies (almost 40 percent) compared to other major river basins in Georgia. Withdrawals in the Apalachicola River Basin are primarily extracted by public-supply systems (43 percent) and irrigation (34 percent). The aquifer from which 68 percent of statewide groundwater withdrawals were extracted was the Floridan aquifer system, and the majority of the water was used for irrigation (57 percent).

Historically, statewide water use in Georgia was highest in 1980 (6,735 Mgal/d), decreased to 5,353 Mgal/d in 1990, peaked at 6,531 Mgal/d in 2000, and has been declining since that time. The reduction in water use between 2000 and 2015 came primarily from surface-water withdrawals (90 percent of total reduction) and thermoelectric power cooling use (78 percent of total reduction). Water use for livestock and aquaculture increased between 1985 and 2015, and this increase correlates with the growth of agriculture in Georgia during that period. The driving forces behind the observed water-use changes include (1) shifts in population numbers and locations, (2) five periods of major drought, (3) water conservation efforts and education programs initiated by State and local governments and water utilities, and (4) changing water needs for thermoelectric power cooling, industry, and agricultural activities.