The USGS Water Science School
Water Science water-use pages
Categories of Use:
National Water Use Program
Information and Data
Surface Water Use in the United States, 2005
The Nation's surface-water resources—the water in the nation's rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs—are vitally important to our everyday life. The main uses of surface water include drinking-water and other public uses, irrigation uses, and for use by the thermoelectric-power industry to cool electricity-generating equipment. The majority of water used for thermoelectric power, public supply, irrigation, mining, and industrial purposes came from surface-water sources. Of all the water used in the United States in 2005 (about 410,000 million gallons per day (Mgal/d), fresh and saline), about 80 percent (328,000 Mgal/d) came from surface-water sources. (All 2010 water use information is from the report Estimated use of water in the United States in 2010.) Water from groundwater sources accounted for the remaining 20 percent. Over 85 percent of all water used in 2005 was freshwater, although saline water was heavily used in the thermoelectric-power industry, and, to a lesser extent, for industrial and mining purposes.
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. Surface water is an important natural resource used for many purposes, especially irrigation and public supply (supplying people with drinking water and for everyday uses).
Surface-water use, by category of use, 2005
For 2005, most of the fresh surface-water withdrawals, 53 percent, was used in the thermoelectric-power industry to cool electricity-generating equipment (generally a "pass-through" process). Water used in this manner is most often returned to its source. That is why the more significant use of surface water is irrigation, which used about 28 percent of all fresh surface water, but, ignoring thermoelectric-power withdrawals, irrigation accounted for about 58 percent of the Nation's surface water withdrawals. Public supply and industrial were the next largest users of surface water.
The pie charts below show the percentage of total (fresh and saline) water that was used in 2005 for various water-use categories, broken out by surface water and groundwater. For most categories, surface water is used more than groundwater, although this pattern varies geographically across the United States. Domestic (self-supplied) water use is almost exclusively groundwater, whereas the water used to produce electricity comes totally from surface water.
Data table (PDF): Surface-water withdrawals by category, 2005
Surface-water withdrawals, by State, 2005
The map below shows surface-water withdrawals, by State, for 2005. The pie charts below the map show which states used the most surface water, as a percentage of the total surface water use for the Nation.
Trends in surface-water withdrawals
Data for freshwater withdrawals for 1980-2000 have been revised from original published values.
Surface-water withdrawals, 2000
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