NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Water Use Declines

November 10, 1998

Americans' use of water went down about 9 percent from 1980 to 1995 according to federal analysts, confounding the widely held conventional belief that an increase in population means an increase in water use. U.S. population increased 16 percent over the 15-year period.

  • The use of water per person declined about 20 percent, on average, between 1990 and 1995.
  • Most of the drop occurred in the 1980s, with a decline of just 2 percent between 1990 and 1995.
  • Lower usage was attributed to a shift away from capturing water (building dams, for example) to more efficient use of water once it had been obtained.

Water growth for the first 80 years of the century was continuous, experts say, as the U.S. economy grew rapidly, with electrical power, irrigation and industry driving usage. However, increased efficiency helped to bring the totals down.

  • Recycling and other new technologies reduced industrial use of water by 35 percent to the lowest level since record keeping began in 1950.
  • Water use per acre of irrigated land fell by about 16 percent from 1980 to 1995 as farmers abandoned spraying techniques and applied water directly to the root systems of plants.
  • Domestic use has almost stabilized thanks to more efficient appliances, rising only 2 percent from 1985 to 1995.

Source: William K. Stevens, "Expectation Aside, Water Use in U.S. Is Showing Decline," New York Times, November 10, 1998.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues