Water Q&A: What is most of the freshwater in the U.S. used for?

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Find out where most of the fresh water we use comes from, and what it's used for.

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What is most of the freshwater in the U.S. used for?

Water Questions and Answers

The water in the Nation's rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, reservoirs, and in underground aquifers are vitally important to our everyday life. Although saline water is used for some purposes, mainly to produce electricity, when people think of the water they use every day, they mostly are considering freshwater. Of all the water withdrawn in 2005 for the Nation, 349,000 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) or 85 percent, was freshwater. If water withdrawn by the thermoelectric-power industry is excluded, then over 99 percent of total withdrawals was freshwater.

About 77 percent of the freshwater used in the United States in 2005 came from surface-water sources. The other 23 percent came from groundwater.

For 2005, most of the fresh surface-water withdrawals, 41 percent, was used in the thermoelectric-power industry to cool electricity-generating equipment. Water used in this manner is most often returned to the water body from which it came. That is why the more significant use of surface water is for irrigation, which used about 31 percent of all fresh surface water; ignoring thermoelectric-power withdrawals, irrigation accounted for about 63 percent of the Nation's surface-water withdrawals. Public supply and industrial were the next largest users of surface water.