Water-Use Terminology

Science Center Objects

The following terms have been used in one or more of the water-use publications. The comparison of water-use categories over the history of these reports may also help clarify the use of some of the terms.

animal-specialties water use–water use associated with the production of fish in captivity except for fish hatcheries which were in Commercial, and the raising of horses and such fur-bearing animals as rabbits and pets. 

  • 1985: Fish farming included in Livestock
  • 1990-1995: Animal specialties (excludes fish hatcheries)
  • 2000 and later: former Animal specialties use reported in Livestock (horses) and Aquaculture categories (fish hatcheries and fish farms)

See also aquaculture water use, fish-hatchery water use, livestock water use, and rural water use.

aquaculture water use–water use associated with the farming of finfish, shellfish, and other organisms that live in water, and offstream water use associated with fish hatcheries. 

  • 1985: Water use for fish farming included in Livestock
  • 1990-1995: Water use was reported in Animal Specialties (fish farming) and Commercial (fish hatcheries)
  • 2000 and later: Aquaculture

See also animal-specialties water use, commercial water use, and livestock water use, and Methods for Estimating Water Withdrawals for Aquaculture in the United States, 2005.

closed-loop cooling systemsee recirculation cooling system. 

commercial water use–water for motels, hotels, restaurants, office buildings, other commercial facilities, military and nonmilitary institutions, and (for 1990 and 1995) offstream fish hatcheries.  Water may be obtained from a public-supply system or may be self-supplied.  Commercial water-use estimates were included in industrial water use until 1985, then were reported as a separate category. Commercial water use estimates were last reported nationally for 1995.

  • 1985: Self-supplied commercial water use first reported as separate category from industrial
  • 1990-1995: Commercial category includes offstream fish hatchery water use for some States
  • 2000 and later: Commercial category not estimated nationally: offstream fish hatchery water use is reported in the Aquaculture category

See also fish-hatchery water use, public-supply water use, public-supply deliveries, industrial water use, and self-supplied water use.

consumptive use–the part of water withdrawn that is evaporated, transpired, incorporated into products or crops, consumed by humans or livestock, or otherwise not available for immediate use.  Water returned to a different watershed than the point of withdrawal (interbasin transfer) is not considered a consumptive use. Also referred to as water consumed. 

  • 1960-1995: Consumptive use reported by water-use category
  • 2000-2010: Consumptive use not estimated nationally
  • 2015: Consumptive use reported for irrigation and thermoelectric power categories

 

conveyance loss-water that is lost in transit from a pipe, canal, conduit, or ditch by leakage or evaporation. Leakage from an irrigation ditch, for example, may percolate to a groundwater source and be available for further use.

  • 1955-1995: Conveyance losses reported nationally
  • 2000 and later: Conveyance losses not estimated nationally

See also irrigation water use.

cooling-system type–an equipment system that provides water for cooling purposes, such as to condensers at power plants or at factories, subdivided into once-through or recirculation cooling system. See also industrial water use, once-through cooling system, recirculation cooling system, and thermoelectric-power water use.

domestic water use–water used for indoor household purposes such as drinking, food preparation, bathing, washing clothes and dishes, flushing toilets, and outdoor purposes such as watering lawns and gardens. Domestic water use includes potable and non-potable water provided to households by a public water supplier (domestic deliveries) and self-supplied water.  

  • 1950-1955: Rural (included Livestock: estimates were retroactively allocated to Rural Domestic and Livestock in later reports)
  • 1960-1980: Rural Domestic
  • 1985 and later: Domestic

See also public-supply deliveries, public-supply water use, rural water use, and self-supplied water use.

fish-hatchery water use–See  aquaculture water use, commercial water use, and animal specialities water use.

freshwater–water that contains less than 1,000 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of dissolved solids.  Generally, water with more than 500 mg/L of dissolved solids is undesirable for drinking and many industrial uses. See also saline water.

fuel-electric powersee thermoelectric power water use.

hydroelectric power water use–the use of water in the generation of electricity at plants where the turbine generators are driven by moving water. Hydroelectric water use is most commonly an instream use. Hydroelectric power water use was referred to as water power from 1950-1960.

  • 1950-1960: Water Power
  • 1965-1995: Hydroelectric Power
  • 2000 and later: Hydroelectric Power category not estimated nationally

industrial water use–water used for fabrication, processing, washing, and cooling.  Includes industries such as chemical and allied products, food, mining, paper and allied products, petroleum refining, and steel. 

  • 1950: Industrial, included thermoelectric power use
  • 1955: Industrial, included thermoelectric power use, subtotals for thermoelectric power use (fuel-electric power) and other provided by watershed but not by State
  • 1960-1980: Industrial, included thermoelectric power use, subtotals for thermoelectric power use (fuel-electric power) and "other industrial" uses
  • 1985 and later: Industrial. Separate categories for thermoelectric power, self-supplied commercial and mining split from other industrial. The term industrial water use was used 1985-1995 to describe the combined public-supply deliveries to industrial users and self-supplied industrial withdrawals.

See also thermoelectric-power water use, commercial water use, mining water use, public-supply deliveries, public-supply water use, and self-supplied water use.

instream use–water that is used, but not withdrawn, from a surface-water source for such purposes as hydroelectric-power generation, navigation, water-quality improvement, fish propagation, and recreation. Instream uses may change the flow characteristics or increase evaporative losses due to impoundments and release schedules. Instream water-use estimates for hydroelectric power were included in some previous water-use circulars but were omitted for 2000 to present.

interbasin transfer-A transfer of water from one river basin to another. Interbasin transfers may be tracked or regulated for different levels of watersheds such as a hydrologic unit level or a set of basin delineations made by a regulatory authority.

irrigation water use–water that is applied by an irrigation system to assist crop and pasture growth, or to maintain vegetation on recreational lands such as parks and golf courses. Irrigation includes water that is applied for pre-irrigation, frost protection, chemical application, weed control, field preparation, harvesting, dust suppression, leaching of salts from the root zone. Irrigation water use estimates also include conveyance losses. See also conveyance loss, microirrigation system, sprinkler irrigation system, and surface irrigation system.

livestock water use–water used for livestock watering, feedlots, dairy operations, and other on-farm needs. Types of livestock include dairy cows and heifers, beef cattle and calves, sheep and lambs, goats, hogs and pigs, horses and poultry.

  • 1950: Rural (included self-supplied domestic: estimates were allocated to Rural Domestic and Livestock in later reports)
  • 1960-1980: Livestock subcatgory under Rural
  • 1985: Livestock, including water use for fish farming
  • 1990-1995: Livestock. Subcategory of Animal Specialties included horses and fish farming
  • 2000 and later: Livestock. Separate category of Aquaculture includes fish farming and fish hatcheries

See also animal-specialties water use, aquaculture water use, and rural water use, and Method for Estimating Water Withdrawals for Livestock in the United States, 2005.

microirrigation system–an irrigation system that wets only a discrete portion of the soil surface in the vicinity of the plant by means of applicators (such as orifices, emitters, porous tubing, or perforated pipe) and operated under low pressure. The applicators may be placed on or below the surface of the ground or suspended from supports. See also irrigation water use, sprinkler irrigation system, and surface irrigation system.

mining water use–water used for the extraction of naturally occurring minerals including solids (such as coal, sand, gravel, and other ores), liquids (such as crude petroleum), and gases (such as natural gas).  Also includes uses associated with quarrying, milling and other preparations customarily done at the mine site, injection of water for secondary oil recovery or for unconventional oil and gas recovery (such as hydraulic fracturing), and other operations associated with mining activity.  Does not include water associated with dewatering of the aquifer that is not put to beneficial use. Also does not include water used in processing, such as smelting, refining petroleum, or slurry pipeline operations.  These processing uses are included in industrial water use.

  • 1950-1980: included in Industrial
  • 1985 and later: Mining

See also industrial water use and self-supplied water use, and Methods for Estimating Water Withdrawals for Mining in the United States, 2005.

municipal water use-public supply water use. Term used in 1950 water-use circular.

four-digit codes established by the Office of Management and Budget, published in 1987, and used in the classification of establishments by type of activity in which they are engaged.

North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)–classification system used by Federal statistical agencies to classify establishments according to type of production or other economic activity. NAICS was adopted in 1997 to replace the Standard Industrial Classification system. 

offstream use–water withdrawn or diverted from a groundwater or surface-water source for aquaculture, commercial, domestic self-supply, industrial, irrigation, livestock, mining, public supply, thermoelectric power, and other uses. See also entries for each of these categories of use.

once-through cooling system–also known as open-loop cooling system. Cooling system in which the water is withdrawn from a source, circulated through the heat exchangers, and then returned to a body of water at a higher temperature. See also cooling system, cooling-system type, industrial water use, and thermoelectric-power water use.

public-supply deliveries–amount of water delivered from a public supplier to users for domestic, commercial, industrial, thermoelectric-power, or public-use purposes.  

  • 1960-1965: combined estimate of deliveries for industrial and commercial use broken down by air conditioning and other, and combined estimate for domestic deliveries and losses
  • 1970-1975: combined estimate of deliveries for industrial and commercial use, and combined estimate for domestic use and losses
  • 1980: combined estimate of deliveries for industrial and commercial use, and combined estimate for domestic and public use including losses
  • 1985-1995: estimates of deliveries for domestic, commercial, industrial, thermoelectric power, and public use and losses
  • 2000: no estimates of deliveries
  • 2005 and later: estimates of deliveries for domestic use and a combined estimate of all other uses and system losses

See also commercial water use, domestic water use, industrial water use, public-supply water use, public water use, and thermoelectric-power use.

public-supply water use–water withdrawn by public and private water suppliers that furnish water to at least 25 people or have a minimum of 15 connections. Public suppliers provide water for a variety of uses, such as domestic, commercial, industrial, thermoelectric-power, and public water use.  See also commercial water use, domestic water use, industrial water use, public-supply deliveries, public water use, and thermoelectric-power water use.

  • 1950: Municipal
  • 1955 and later: Public Supply

public water use–water supplied from a public supplier and used for such purposes as firefighting, street washing, flushing of water lines, and maintaining municipal parks and swimming pools. Generally, public-use water is not billed by the public supplier. See also public-supply deliveries and public-supply water use.

recirculation cooling system–also known as closed-loop cooling system. Water is withdrawn from a source, circulated through heat exchangers, cooled, and then re-used in the same process. Recirculation cooling systems may use induced draft cooling towers, forced draft cooling towers, cooling ponds, or canals. See also cooling system, cooling-system type, industrial water use, and thermoelectric-power water use.

reclaimed wastewater–wastewater-treatment plant effluent that has been diverted for beneficial uses such as irrigation, industry, or thermoelectric cooling instead of being released to a natural waterway or aquifer.  See also water use.

return flow–water that reaches a groundwater or surface-water source after release from the point of use and thus becomes available for further use. Term used in previous water-use circulars. See also water use.

rural water use–self-supplied water used in suburban or farm areas for domestic and livestock needs, and includes domestic use, drinking water for livestock, and other uses such as dairy sanitation, cleaning, and waste disposal.

  • 1950-1955: Rural, included self-supplied domestic and livestock uses
  • 1960-1980: Rural, subcategories of rural domestic and livestock
  • 1985 and later: replaced by Domestic and Livestock categories

See also animal-specialties water use, domestic water use, livestock water use, and self-supplied water use.

saline water–water that contains 1,000 mg/L or more of dissolved solids. See also freshwater.

self-supplied water use–water withdrawn from a groundwater or surface-water source by a user rather than being obtained from a public supply.

sprinkler irrigation system–an irrigation system in which water is applied by means of perforated pipes or nozzles operated under pressure so as to form a spray pattern. See also irrigation water use, microirrigation system, and surface irrigation system.

Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes–codes established by the Office of Management and Budget in 1987 and used in the classification of establishments by type of activity in which they are engaged. Largely replaced by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

surface irrigation system–irrigation by means of flood, furrow, or gravity. Flood irrigation is the application of irrigation water in which the entire soil surface is covered by ponded water. Furrow is a partial surface-flooding method of irrigation normally used with clean-tilled crops in which water is applied in furrows or rows of sufficient capacity to contain the design irrigation stream. Gravity is an irrigation method in which water is not pumped, but flows in ditches or pipes and is distributed by gravity. See also irrigation water use, microirrigation system, and sprinkler irrigation system.

thermoelectric-power water use–water used in the process of generating electricity with steam-driven turbine generators. Term used in previous water-use circulars to describe the combined public-supply deliveries to thermoelectric-power plants and self-supplied thermoelectric-power withdrawals.

  • 1950: Included in Industrial
  • 1955: Fuel-electric power subcategory in Industrial (data presented by watershed but not by State)
  • 1960-1980: Fuel-electric power subcategory in Industrial
  • 1985-1995: Thermoelectric power, subcategories by fuel type (fossil fuel, geothermal, nuclear)
  • 2000 and later: Thermoelectric power, subcategories by cooling-system type (once-through, closed-loop/recirculation)

See also cooling system, cooling-system type, public-supply water use, industrial water use, and self-supplied water use. and Methods for estimating water consumption for thermoelectric power plants in the United States.

wastewater-treatment return flow–water returned to the hydrologic system by wastewater-treatment facilities. Wastewater-treatment return flows were referred to as sewage treatment in 1985. Wastewater treatment return flows were last reported in 1995. See also water use.

water power, waterpower–hydroelectric power water use

water use–In a restrictive sense, the term refers to water that is withdrawn for a specific purpose, such as for public supply, domestic use, irrigation, thermoelectric-power cooling, or industrial processing.  In previous water-use circulars, water use for the domestic, commercial, industrial, and thermoelectric categories included both self-supplied withdrawals and deliveries from public supply. More broadly, water use pertains to the interaction of humans with and influence on the hydrologic cycle, and includes elements such as water withdrawal, delivery, consumptive use, wastewater release, reclaimed wastewater, return flow, and instream use.  See also offstream use and instream use.

water withdrawal–water removed from the ground or diverted from a surface-water source for use. See also offstream use and self-supplied water.