Commercial and Industrial Uses of Water

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Commercial and Industrial Uses of Water

Besides being vital for human survival, water is also necessary in commerce and in industry. Commercial operations are those that generally do not manufacture a product, but provide a service, such as hospitals, restaurants, and schools. Industry usually involves manufacturing a product. In industry, water helps keep machinery needed for the making of products running smoothly and efficiently. Water can also be a vital part of the product, such as in sports drinks or soft drinks. In the United States, the total amount of fresh and salt water used every day by industry is nearly 410 billion gallons. To illustrate such a huge number, think of that amount of water in terms of weight. A gallon of water weighs a little over 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms). The daily water usage in the United States totals almost 3.5 trillion pounds (1.6 trillion kilograms), about the same as 200 million 200-pound (90.7 kilogram) people!

Commercial water use

In modern day, water is essential to people's daily lives. Without water, restaurants could not supply meals or even clean up after the meals, cars would go unwashed, and fires could be disastrous, with no means of dousing the blaze. Green parks, recreational fields, and golf courses rely on water to keep the grass and soil moist and healthy. Roadways would become dirty and grimy in the absence of any water-based cleaning program. Offices would grind to a halt with no water available for drinking and bathrooms, and office buildings, stores, and public and private centers would also be dark places without the water necessary to generate electricity for lighting.

The water for these and other commercial uses comes from the surface and from underground (groundwater) sources. The extent to which a community uses a surface or a groundwater source depends on which source is more abundant in the particular area. For example, the drier central portions of the United States and Canada do not have as much surface water as the eastern and western coasts. In the prairies, wells that reach down to tap underground water sources are more common than in coastal regions such as California.

Some of the water that is used for commercial purposes can be reused. The water used in a car wash is one example. Another example is the water that is applied to golf courses. Surface water that is obtained from a lagoon (shallow body of water cut off from a larger body) can be suitable for keeping a golf course lush and green. Other commercial water uses, such as drinking water, demand water that is free of chemicals and harmful microorganisms.

Fresh and salt water is home to many living creatures that are harvested by humans. Whether for sport or as a business, fisheries are completely dependent on water.

Commercial Fishing

Both fresh and salt waters have long supported commercial fisheries in North America. Rivers on the eastern and western portions of the United States and Canada once were the basis of a productive commercial salmon fishery. However, in the past few decades, the number of salmon that return from the ocean to their river homes has been steadily declining. One reason is over-fishing; the catching of more fish than is produced. But other factors may be playing a role. The decline in water quality is one suspected factor.

A century ago, the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada was the world's premier cod fishing ground. Nets would strain under the weight of untold numbers of cod, often the source of fish used in preparing fish sticks and the traditional 'fish and chips'. However, over-fishing by local fishers and by large factory trawlers have greatly reduced the cod stocks. In the 1990s, the government of Canada ended fishing for cod off the east coast of Canada so that the numbers of cod could again increase in their natural habitat. A decade later, the numbers of cod fish had not recovered, and the cod fishery industry in the area was, at least temporarily, lost.

Industrial water use

Industries require large supplies of water. Machinery relies on water to cool it to a temperature that allows the manufacturing process to keep going. The mining industry needs water to wash off the material that has been brought up from underground in order to sort out the genuine product from other particles. Water is also used to clean machinery, buildings, and even, in the case of the meat processing industry, the carcasses of the cattle, pigs, and other animals that will be trimmed into the items found in the meat section of the local supermarket.

In oil producing regions, vast amounts of water are used. As oil wells get older and the underlying oil reserve is tapped, it becomes more difficult to pump out oil that is hiding in cracks in the rock deep underground. One way of getting this oil is to pump water down into the oil formation. The water can make its way into cracks and crevasses and push the oil out in front of it. The oil is then pumped up using another well. Without this industrial use of water, oil and gasoline would be more scarce and more expensive.

The generation of electrical power also makes use of water, to cool equipment and to push the turbines that are the heart of the process that produces electricity. Turbines are turning wheels with buckets, paddles or blades that turn as water moves by converting the energy of moving water to mechanical power. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, in the year 2000 about 20 billion gallons (76 billion liters) of water were used each day to make electricity. This represents about 53% of all water use in the country. The vast amount of this water comes from surface water sources. Much of this water is eventually returned to the environment for reuse. In contrast, water that is used to irrigate (water) crops usually cannot be recovered after being applied to the crops.

Another big user of water is the pulp and paper industry; millions of gallons of water is used in the various processes that turn a log into a piece of paper. Clean water is also required for papermaking. If the water contains too many solid particles, the paper will not be smooth and the paper-making machinery could be damaged.

For other industries, water may not be a key part of the actual making of the product, but it is nevertheless, required. In the steel making industry, water is needed for cooling equipment. Like in the oil industry, this use of water does not require water of the same quality as drinking water. Care must be taken in disposing of the water, however. For example, water cannot be disposed of immediately after it is used to cool equipment, as the high temperature of the water would damage fish and other life in the natural environment. This water is usually cooled in a holding pond or container before being released.

Brian Hoyle, Ph.D.

For More Information


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Water Sourcebooks: K-12. Washington, DC: USEPA, 2000.

Vickers, Amy. Handbook of Water Use and Conservation: Homes, Landscapes, Industries, Businesses, Farms. Amherst, MA: Waterplow Press, 2001.


United States Geological Survey. "Industrial Water Use." Water Science for Schools. (accessed on August 24, 2004).

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Commercial and Industrial Uses of Water

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