USGS: Water Withdrawals in US Decreased by 13% from 2005-2010

Public Supply Withdrawals Decreased by 5%

 USGS report coverWater withdrawals in the United States in 2010 were estimated to be about 355 billion gallons per day (Bgal/d), which was 13 percent less than in 2005 according the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The report from USGS, Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2010, released in November 2014, found that total withdrawals are at the lowest level since before 1970. Most of the savings appear to have come from reductions in withdrawals for thermoelectric power generation agricultural irrigation. Water withdrawals for public supply (the primary focus of AWE and urban water conservation professionals) decreased by 5 percent from 2005 to 2010 although the US experienced a 4 percent increase in overall population in that time. This suggests substantial overall gains in urban water use efficiency over this five year period. The USGS releases water use estimates every five years.
USGS does not make a distinction between water that is withdrawn and fully consumed and water that is withdrawn, used, and then returned to the body of water it was withdrawn from.  USGS utilizes the term "water use" to describe consumptive and non-consumptive water use .

A summary of water withdrawals in the US in 2010 is shown in the USGS graphic from the 2010 Summary Report.
Freshwater withdrawals were 86 percent of total withdrawals, and saline-water withdrawals were 14 percent of total withdrawals. Significantly, fresh surface-water withdrawals were almost 15 percent less than in 2005, and fresh groundwater withdrawals were about 4 percent less than in 2005. Thermoelectric power generation and agricultural irrigation are the largest two sectors of water withdrawals and public supply is the third largest category.

Public-supply withdrawals, the focus of water efficiency efforts from AWE and utilities across the US, were 5 percent less in 2010 than in 2005. This is the first measured decline in public-supply withdrawals since the 5-year reporting began in 1950. This decline was achieved even though population increased by 4% in the US from 300.7 million people in 2005 to 313.0 million people in 2010.

Public-supply withdrawals accounted for 14 percent of the total freshwater withdrawals for all uses and 22 percent of freshwater withdrawals for all uses excluding thermoelectric power. The number of people that received potable water from public-supply facilities in 2010 was 268 million, or about 86 percent of the total U.S. population. This percentage was unchanged from 2005.

Thermoelectric power and agricultural irrigation remained the two largest uses of water in 2010, and total withdrawals for both were notably less than in 2005. Withdrawals in 2010 for thermoelectric power were 20 percent less and withdrawals for irrigation were 9 percent less than in 2005.

Withdrawals for thermoelectric power represented the lowest levels since before 1970. Agricultural irrigation withdrawals in 2010 were at lowest levels since before 1965. 

Water Use Trends

USGS-fig-13-2010The chart at left (reprinted from Figure 13 in the 2010 USGS report) shows estimated fresh water withdrawals in the U.S. from 1950 - 2010 on the first y-axis and US population on the second y-axis. Freshwater withdrawals in the US peaked in 1980 then declined significantly in 1985 and have held essentially constant even though population has steadily increased until 2010 when usage again reduced substantially. Over the past five years, surface water withdrawals have decreased by 13% while groundwater withdrawals declined to a smaller degree.

Freshwater withdrawals in the US in 2010 are approximately the same as what they were between 1965 and 1970 - 45 years ago.
USGS-fig-14-2010The second chart at left (reprinted from Figure 14 in the 2010 USGS report) shows the total water withdrawals from 1950 - 2010 by key categories. Here it can be seen that reductions in the water withdrawals for thermoelectric power, agricultural irrigation, public supply, and "other" uses are largely responsible for the changes in demand estimated since 1980. Public supply water withdrawals steadily increased since 1950, but decreased for the first time from 2005 - 2010, as a result of national and local water efficiency and conservation efforts. Population increased by 4% from 2005 - 2010, but public supply water withdrawals reduced by 5%.

The full report from the USGS provides significant detail on how these estimates were prepared, the components of each category, and key assumptions in the analysis. Use the link below to visit the USGS web page for the Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2010 report.