Total Water Use in the United States

Science Center Objects

The water in the Nation's rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and underground aquifers are vitally important to our everyday life. These water bodies supply the water to serve the needs of every human and for the world's ecological systems, too. Here in the United States, every 5 years the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) compiles county, state, and National water withdrawal and use data for a number of water-use categories.

 

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Collage picture of various uses of water

Total Water Use in the United States

Water use in the United States in 2015 was estimated to be about 322 billion gallons per day (Bgal/d), which was 9 percent less than in 2010. The 2015 estimates put total withdrawals at the lowest level since before 1970, following the same overall trend of decreasing total withdrawals observed from 2005 to 2010. Freshwater withdrawals were 281 Bgal/d, or 87 percent of total withdrawals, and saline-water withdrawals were 41.0 Bgal/d, or 13 percent of total withdrawals. Fresh surface-water withdrawals (198 Bgal/d) were 14 percent less than in 2010, and fresh groundwater withdrawals (82.3 Bgal/day) were about 8 percent greater than in 2010. Saline surface-water withdrawals were 38.6 Bgal/d, or 14 percent less than in 2010. Total saline groundwater withdrawals in 2015 were 2.34 Bgal/d, mostly for mining use.

 

Map of the U.S. by state, showing total water withdrawals, 2015

Map of the U.S. by state, showing total water withdrawals, 2015

Total water use, by category of use, 2015

  • Thermoelectric power and irrigation remained the two largest uses of water in 2015, and total withdrawals decreased for thermoelectric power but increased for irrigation
  • Withdrawals for thermoelectric power were 133 Bgal/d in 2015 and represented the lowest levels since before 1970. 
  • Irrigation withdrawals were 118 Bgal/d in 2015, an increase of 2 percent from 2010 (116 Bgal/d), but were approximately equal to withdrawals estimated in the 1960s. 
  • Public-supply withdrawals in 2015 were 39.0 Bgal/d, or 7 percent less than in 2010, continuing the declines observed from 2005 to 2010.
  • Self-supplied industrial withdrawals were 14.8 Bgal/d in 2015, a 9 percent decline from 2010, continuing the downward trend since the peak of 47 Bgal/d in 1970.
  • Total aquaculture withdrawals were 7.55 Bgal/d in 2015, or 16 percent less than in 2010, and surface water was the primary source (79 percent).
  • Total mining withdrawals in 2015 were 4.00 Bgal/d, or about 1 percent of total withdrawals from all uses and 2 percent of total withdrawals from all uses, excluding thermoelectric.
  • Livestock withdrawals in 2015 were 2.00 Bgal/d, the same as in 2010.
Diagram showing source and use of water in the U.S. in 2015, by category

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 inthe United States, each day, by industries.

 

Total water withdrawals, by State, 2015

In 2015, more than 50 percent of the total withdrawals in the United States were accounted for by 12 States (California, Texas, Idaho, Florida, Arkansas, New York, Illinois, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, and Nebraska). California accounted for almost 9 percent of the total withdrawals and 9 percent of freshwater withdrawals in the United States, predominantly for irrigation. Texas accounted for almost 7 percent of total withdrawals, predominantly for thermoelectric power, irrigation, and public supply. Florida accounted for 23 percent of the total saline-water withdrawals in the United States, mostly from surface-water sources for thermoelectric power. Texas and California accounted for 59 percent of the total saline groundwater withdrawals in the United States, mostly for mining.

Bar chart showing use of water in 2015, by state and by category of use.

Bar chart showing use of water in 2015, by state and category of use

 

Trends in the Nation's water withdrawals

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

Year Freshwater Saline Total
1950 174 10 184
1955 227 19 246
1960 240 31 271
1965 270 44 314
1970 318 54 372
1975 342 70 412
1980 363 71.9 435
1985 336 60.3 396
1990 335 68.3 403
1995 337 60.8 398
2000 349 63.5 416
2005 349 60.9 410
2010 306 48.3 355
2015 281 41 322

Data may not sum to totals because numbers are rounded.
Data for freshwater withdrawals for 1980-2005 have been revised from original published values.

Graph of trends in total water withdrawals by water-use category, 1950-2015

Trends in total water withdrawals by water-use category, 1950-2015​​​​​​​

Source: Estimated Water Use in the United States in 2015