What is Water Consumption?

Ken Black

Water consumption is simply the use of water in any form for any reason. While most people tend to think of water consumption as nothing more than drinking, water is consumed in a variety of ways, with human consumption only making up a small fraction of the use. It is used in irrigation, cleaning, cooking, and even as a coolant, in some cases.

Sparkling water.
Sparkling water.

The average household in the United States uses 100,000 gallons of water each year, but that pales in comparison to other uses. Worldwide, irrigation makes up the largest use of water, accounting for more than 85 percent of all water consumption. Generally speaking, water is considered consumed when it is not available for any other use.

A water scientist doing field research.
A water scientist doing field research.

Understanding how water is consumed is very important, as many geographic locations in the world routinely experience a water shortage or water distribution problem. In fact 1.1 billion individuals in developing countries have no access to clean water, and more than twice that many do not have access to adequate sanitation. Thus, many have come to see the issue of water consumption not only as a conservation issue, but also as a human rights issue.

Bringing bottled water on a hot day is a good idea.
Bringing bottled water on a hot day is a good idea.

Given the fact that water is so important, finding ways to reduce water consumption is often a priority for governments. In the United States, for example, many states or local governments place restrictions on certain water uses, such as lawn watering. The laws are typically designed to ensure that over-watering is not taking place, and that watering is done at the proper time of day. This helps reduce waste and loss due to evaporation and other issues.

Watering the lawn is an example of water consumption.
Watering the lawn is an example of water consumption.

Many countries also place an emphasis on conservation efforts and have laws regarding pollution. Pollutants can make water unsafe both for drinking and for organisms that live in the water, which may also be part of the larger food chain. Therefore, pollution can also be considered a type of water consumption because it makes the water unusable. The most common pollutants include human and animal waste, fertilizer runoff, and runoff from urbanized areas. In addition, industrial areas may discharge tons of heavy metals and other chemical waste into water systems that are hazardous to animals.

Water consumption may not only be an issue within a country, it can also be an issue between countries. For example, a country that dams a river can affect the flow to countries who depend on that same river downstream. A recent example of this taking place happened in the fall of 2009, when Iraq pressured Turkey to release more water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which begin in Turkey and flow through Iraq.

While the term water consumption may indicate the water ceases to exist, it does not. It simply changes form and locations. Water is constantly recycled through a process known as the water cycle, and the amount of water on Earth has remained virtually unchanged since its creation. Whether that water is in a usable form is the main concern.

The drinking of water makes up a small fraction of overall water consumption.
The drinking of water makes up a small fraction of overall water consumption.

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Discussion Comments


I find it disappointing to see people and industries using water in a manner which is not advanced at all. Yes I agree. We all know that water is a renewable resources, but we must also bear in our mind to use such a resource wisely because of the vital role it plays in our lives.

So good people, let us start right now to save and use water in an advanced manner!


100,000 gallons might seem very high, but it doesn't surprise me. People do water their lawns a lot and wash their cars, and so on. And yes, people should start to conserve water in their homes.

But, the author is right, most water consumption is industrial and that's where changes should be made. There are other options that could be used in place of water, but companies don't bother right now, because water is the easiest and the cheapest.

Unfortunately the big aquifers in the United States are starting to run dry. And we have not learned a lot from the Dust Bowl era, when a long drought stopped almost all the agriculture in certain regions. The same thing could easily happen again when the aquifers run out.

All those industries will have trouble surviving when no one can afford to buy their products.


It is comforting in a way to know that water cannot really be consumed, or used up. It is only converted to vapor, trapped underground, polluted, or lost to the ocean. I say it is comforting because we have so many problems with water consumption levels at the moment, but once we start developing the technology, and using water supplies in a sensible way, we should be able to recover what we are losing at the moment.

I just hope it happens before serious wars begin over access to clean water supplies, because at the moment, that possibility is looming ever closer.

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