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Half of All Water Consumption Goes to Electricity Generation


The topic of water consumption came up in the EPA’s report Our Built and Natural Environments. That report focused on the housing sector, but I thought it might be interesting to look at water consumption more generally. The United States Geological Service (USGS) estimates water consumption across the United States. This post is the first of a series on how much water we use, and for what purpose.

In 2005, the most recent year for which data is available, total water withdrawals in the United States were 410 billion gallons per day. How much water is that? Well, if you had a container 1 foot wide by 1 foot long, each day you would fill it 10.4 million miles high. In just 9 days, you would reach past the sun. That’s a lot of water.

US by Use Category ChartThe first chart at right shows how all this water was used. Incredibly, almost half of all water consumption was for thermoelectric power generating stations. This does not include hydroelectric generating stations – dams – that process huge amounts of water through their turbines. This is for generating stations that use water to produce steam and for cooling.

Public Supply and Power Generation aren’t end uses. They consume water to satisfy other uses. I wish I could distribute the water they consumed to its end uses. I think it would change the results dramatically. But I can’t, because inconsistencies in the data and the categories would make the results invalid.

Missouri is a mid-level consumer of water, with power generation being its largest use. More on that in following posts.


For water consumption: Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2005, Circular 1344, U.S. Geological Survey, http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1344.

For 2005 energy consumption by sector: Retail Sales of Electricity by State by Sector by Provider, 1990-2011, State Historical Tables for 2011, http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.cfm#sales.

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