The USGS Water Science School
Water Science water-use pages
Categories of Use:
National Water Use Program
Information and Data
Trends in Water Use in the United States, 1950 to 2010
How has America's water use changed over the last 60 years? Are we using more or less water, and are there trends for different kinds of water use? There is a lot of information in the bar graph below. It shows the amount of water used for various categories of water use from 1950 to 2010.
This chart shows the trends in surface-water, groundwater, and total-water withdrawals for the Nation from 1950 to 2010. Notice how the relative amounts of surface- and groundwater withdrawals (in percentages) has remained fairly constant. About three-fourths of the water used in America comes from surface water. What is remarkable about this chart is that it shows that the Nation's water use peaked in 1980 and has been fairly steady since then. Many of the stresses for greater water use have risen since 1980, such as population, the need to grow more food (irrigation), more industry, etc, yet total water use has not risen. This shows that water conservation efforts and greater efficiencies in using water have had a positive effect in the last 35 years.
Trends in total water withdrawals by category, 1950-2010
The bars that stand out most are the yellow ones -- freshwater for electricity production. Electricity water use increased almost 400 percent from 1950 to 2005, but dropped about 19 percent from 2005 to 2010. (All 2010 water use information is from the report Estimated use of water in the United States in 2010.) Irrigation water use increased by about 29 percent since 1950—it takes more water to grow food for our increasing population. Notice how after 1980 water use started to decrease a bit, possibly due to the Nation making more use of water-conservation measures. The purple public-supply boxes are important. Notice how they continue on an uptrend. Public-supply water (water withdrawn by the local county and city water departments and delivered to homes and businesses) goes to serve the Nation's normal water uses, such as supplying industries, restaurants, and homes with water. The Nation's ever-increasing population demands ever-increasing supplies of water.
Trends in population and fresh surface-water use, 1950-2010
The majority, about 75 percent, of freshwater used in the United States came from surface water in 2010. The largest user of surface water is the thermoelectric-power industry, which uses it to cool electricity-generating equipment. Most of this water is returned directly to the environment, unlike in irrigation, in which much of the water is consumed (evaporated, transpired by plants). Until 2005, the public-supply sector was the only water-use category that increased continually since 1950. But, public-supply water use fell in 2010.
Trends in population and fresh groundwater use, 1950-2010
Groundwater is vitally important in supplying water for our Nation's everyday water needs, with the most significant use being for irrigation and public water supply. Since 1950, the groundwater portion of total water withdrawals in the United States has remained at about 20 percent, except in 2010, where groundwater constituted about 22% of the Nation's water withdrawals. The vast amount of groundwater used is freshwater, with a small amount of saline water going to mining uses. Groundwater is used to irrigate crops and supply homes, businesses, and industries with water.