Today’s factismal: The typical American household uses an average of 320 gallons of water each day.
You’ve probably heard the news that California is in a severe drought that has lasted four years so far. The governor has declared a state of emergency and instituted some of the toughest water conservation measures in America. What you probably haven’t heard is that California is not alone; right now, more than half of the USA is in a drought. That’s right – about 53% of the land in the USA (59% of the land in the contiguous US) has been using water faster than it comes in. Believe it or not, this is an improvement over 2012 when nearly 80% of the US was dry.
Part of the reason for the drought is climactic; both long-term climate cycles (e.g., AMO, PDO) and short term ones (e.g., ENSO) have contributed to a dearth of precipitation in much of the US. And part of the reason is simply that demand has exceeded supply for some time now. The Colorado River is notorious for running dry before it reaches the Sea of Cortez. And that’s caused by the two main users of water: families and farming.
About 80% of the nation’s water use is for agriculture. Irrigation is an important part of the “green miracle” that has fed the world since the 1960s; without it, we would have much less (and much less nutritious) food. But even the remaining 20% is a pretty hefty amount. Every day, some 37 billion gallons of water are used by families across the USA. That’s 320 gallons per family per day, on average.
Where does all that water go? Well, a typical shower uses up 17 gallons of water. Toilets? They take 5 gallons per flush. Don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards even though we use about 6 gallons a day on it. A load of laundry uses up 45 gallons of water. Doing the dishes in a dishwasher uses up 15 gallons. And that nice, green lawn? That takes 48 gallons of water a day. Add it all up and we’re talking about the same amount of water that the Mississippi pours out in two hours!
Now there are lots of things that we can do to help conserve water during the drought. We can pressure our politicians to pass laws requiring more water-efficient agricultural practices. We can convert our lawns and gardens into xeriscapes. And we can take part in FreshWater Watch. This international program looks to collect data on fresh water supplies around the world, and turn those into a better understanding of where our water comes from and where it goes. To learn more, stream to: