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  • Arjun Thapan

Some Good News: Water Use in the United States is Declining

Good news in our water fraught world is always welcome – something to remind us on World Water Day that all is not lost in our efforts to turn the tide of the water crisis back.

Water consumption in the US has declined. Here are some interesting factoids:

Consumption in 2010 354 billion gallons per day (bgd)

Consumption in 2015 322 bgd

Percentage decline 9.0%

What was the average consumption in 1980? A staggering 480 bgd!!

So, this is pretty impressive given that the US population increased by 3.88% during the 2010-2015 period – per capita consumption declined from 88 to 82 gallons per day. But that is still a shocking figure – 309 liters per person per day (lpcd) – given that most communities that are seeking to be water efficient are targeting 150 lpcd.

What about thermoelectric power that, typically, withdraws about 49% of all water in the US? Its withdrawals declined by 18% over 2010-2015.

Industrial water use is also waning – it has declined by 43% over the 1985-2015 period.

Why has this happened? There is no detailed, specific analysis. But we do have some pointers.

Wastewater treatment and reuse is catching on. The Orange County Water District in California is a pioneer in this business. Now El Paso, in Texas, is constructing an advanced purification system that will enable ‘new’ water to be pumped directly into the distribution network. Also, in California, the 25% water use reduction program initiated a few years ago by Governor Jerry Brown at the height of the state’s prolonged drought, has engendered a higher sense of water conservation.

The older thermoelectric power plants are being phased out. Coal-fired plants based on super critical technology that require much less water are now the norm. At any rate, coal-fired plants are now only 17% of the total energy mix in the US.

Then there is the WaterSense program that labels products in terms of water efficiency. Its appeal is growing and industry in general, but the food and beverage industry particularly, is making impressive strides in optimizing economic output values per unit of water consumed.

So, this is cause for celebration. But it is also the beginning. Water conservation and water efficiency have a long way to go, especially in the developing world. It’s time to get serious about implementing the myriad solutions that will reverse the water crisis.


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