We are bombarded with the news that we as Americans are using too much water.
We leave our faucets on, our toilets are not calibrated to use less water per flush, we take showers instead of water-saving baths, and we use inefficient appliances like dishwashers and washing machines that fritter away a valuable resource.
The Environmental Protection Agency projects the average indoor use of water to be 100 gallons per person, per day. There is no denying that this is a lot of water, and the argument that “it is all relative” falls flat. Americans use a lot more indoor water per capita than any other country.
What may be surprising, though, is that our indoor use is nothing compared to what the United States uses for farming and irrigation, which includes water for crops, chemical applications, lawn and golf course watering and weed control.
According to the latest data compiled by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), of the 410 billion gallons of freshwater withdrawals made in 2005, 130 billion gallons is used for irrigation and livestock.
This amounts to about 30% of the total freshwater withdrawals, compared to the 10% used by more conventional means in the home. It’s partly explained by the fact that agriculture is still big business in the U.S., despite media reports that suggest farming is on the decline.
Even if accurate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 46% of U.S. land is used for agriculture, making it the largest use of land in the country. And, not all of that land is ideally suited for farming, or is used to farm crops that need large quantities of water.
U.S. water rights are always evolving, but their formation when the country was still largely an agrarian society still has its influence. Some historians note that agriculture singly defined the contour of current water rights.
Agriculture is a powerful industry with a historical responsibility conferred by its rights in water, and will play an important role in conservation of our precious water resources.