Groundwater Use in the United States

Science Center Objects

Groundwater is one of our most valuable resource—even though you probably never see it or even realize it is there. Groundwater is essential for irrigation and human use in many parts of the country. The use of groundwater in the United States in 2015 is described below.

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Groundwater serves many purposes

Fresh groundwater was used for many important purposes, with the largest amount going toward irrigating crops, such as the delicious eggplants, squash, and rutabagas that children love to have for dinner. Local city and county water departments withdraw a lot of groundwater for public uses, such as for delivery to homes, businesses, and industries, as well as for community uses such as fire fighting, water services at public buildings, and for keeping local residents happy by keeping community swimming pools full of water. Industries and mining facilities also used a lot of groundwater. The majority of water used for self-supplied domestic (people who supply their own home water, usually by a well) and livestock purposes came from groundwater sources.

Diagram showing source and use of freshwater in the U.S. in 2015, by category

This diagram uses a "cylinder and pipe" layout to show the source (surface water or groundwater) of the Nation's freshwater and for what purposes the water was used in 2015. The data are broken out for each category of use by surface water and groundwater as the source.

Data are rounded and are reported in million gallons per day (Mgal/d).

The top row of cylinders represents where America's freshwater came from (source) in 2015, either from surface water (blue) or from groundwater (brown). You can see most of the water we use came from surface-water sources, such as rivers and lakes. About 26 percent of water used came from groundwater. The pipes leading out of the surface-water and groundwater cylinders on the top row and flowing into the bottom rows of cylinders (green) show the categories of water use where the water was sent after being withdrawn from a river, lake, reservoir, or well.

For example, the blue pipe coming out of the surface-water cylinder and entering the public supply cylinder shows that 23,800 Mgal/d of water was withdrawn from surface-water sources for public-supply uses (you probably get your water this way). Likewise, the brown pipe shows that public-suppliers withdrew another 15,200 Mgal/d of water from groundwater sources.

Each green cylinder represents a category of water use. The industrial cylinder, for instance, shows how much groundwater, surface water, and total water was used in the United States, each day, by industries.

You can see that although the Nation uses much more surface water than groundwater, groundwater has significant importance for some of the categories. Almost all self-supplied domestic water came from groundwater; over 40 percent of irrigation water was groundwater; and more groundwater than surface water was used for livestock purposes.

 

Groundwater withdrawals, by State, 2015

Of the total fresh groundwater withdrawals nationwide (82,300 Mgal/d), irrigation accounted for 70 percent, primarily in California, Arkansas, Nebraska, Idaho, and Texas. Fresh groundwater irrigation withdrawals in these five States cumulatively accounted for 46 percent of the total fresh groundwater withdrawals for all categories nationwide. Nearly all groundwater withdrawals (97 percent) were from freshwater, predominantly used for irrigation. Saline groundwater withdrawals were predominantly used for mining (80 percent) and occurred in Texas, California, and Oklahoma. Irrigation used greater than three times more fresh groundwater than public supply, which was the next largest use of fresh groundwater in the Nation.

Groundwater withdrawals in 2015

 

Graph of trends in population and freshwater withdrawals by source, 1950-2015

Groundwater withdrawals for the United States, 1950-2015.  (Data are in billion gallons per day (Bgal/d)

Year   Fresh   Saline
1950   34   (c)
1955   47  0.6
1960   50  0.4
1965   60  0.5
1970   68  1
1975   82  1
1980   83  0.93
1985   73.4   0.66
1990   79.4   1.30a
1995   76.4a   1.11
2000   84.3a  2.47a
2005   78.9   1.51
2010  75.9a  2.22a
2015  82.3   2.34

a    Data revised from Maupin and others (2014) because of revisions to individual State data during interim years
(c)  Data not available