Water Resources of the United States

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Water Resources of the United States

U.S. Geological Survey


By: United States Geological Survey

Date: March 2004

Source: Hutson, Susan S., et al., U.S. Geological Survey. "Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2000," USGS Circular 1268, originally released March 2004 (revised April 2004, May 2004, and February 2005) 〈http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/2004/circ1268/index.html〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

About the Organization: The United States Geological Survey (USGS), a part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, monitors, collects, analyzes, and provides technical and scientific information about the condition, issues, and problems of the country's natural resources (such as water, minerals, and energy) in order to enhance and protect the quality of life in the United States.


The USGS provides information about water resources within the United States through its Water Resources Discipline (WRD). Through a workforce of about 4,300 people located in all fifty states, the WRD uses its skilled personnel and comprehensive amount of materials to provide water resource information to local and state organizations in order to: (1) minimize loss of life and property damage as a result of water-related natural hazards such as droughts, floods, and earthquakes; (2) manage surface and ground water resources for agricultural, commercial, domestic, ecological, industrial, and recreational uses; (3) protect and improve water resources for aquatic environments, human health, and overall environmental quality; and (4) contribute to physical and economic development of the country's resources. Within its Web pages, the USGS titles each page as "Water Resources of the United States" in order to emphasize its major efforts for U.S. citizens and organizations along the lines of water resources.


Estimates of water use in the United States indicate that about 408 billion gallons per day (one thousand million gallons per day, abbreviated Bgal/d) were withdrawn for all uses during 2000. This total has varied less than 3 percent since 1985 as withdrawals have stabilized for the two largest uses-thermoelectric power and irrigation. Fresh ground-water withdrawals (83.3 Bgal/d) during 2000 were 14 percent more than during 1985. Fresh surface-water withdrawals for 2000 were 262 Bgal/d, varying less than 2 percent since 1985.

About 195 Bgal/d, or 48 percent of all freshwater and saline-water withdrawals for 2000, were used for thermoelectric power. Most of this water was derived from surface water and used for once-through cooling at power plants. About 52 percent of fresh surface-water withdrawals and about 96 percent of saline-water withdrawals were for thermoelectric-power use. Withdrawals for thermoelectric power have been relatively stable since 1985.

Irrigation remained the largest use of freshwater in the United States and totaled 137 Bgal/d for 2000. Since 1950, irrigation has accounted for about 65 percent of total water withdrawals, excluding those for thermoelectric power. Historically, more surface water than ground water has been used for irrigation. However, the percentage of total irrigation withdrawals from ground water has continued to increase, from 23 percent in 1950 to 42 percent in 2000. Total irrigation withdrawals were 2 percent more for 2000 than for 1995, because of a 16-percent increase in ground-water withdrawals and a small decrease in surface-water withdrawals. Irrigated acreage more than doubled between 1950 and 1980, then remained constant before increasing nearly 7 percent between 1995 and 2000. The number of acres irrigated with sprinkler and microirrigation systems has continued to increase and now comprises more than one-half the total irrigated acreage.

Public-supply withdrawals were more than 43 Bgal/d for 2000. Public-supply withdrawals during 1950 were 14 Bgal/d. During 2000, about 85 percent of the population in the United States obtained drinking water from public suppliers, compared to 62 percent during 1950. Surface water provided 63 percent of the total during 2000, whereas surface water provided 74 percent during 1950.

Self-supplied industrial withdrawals totaled nearly 20 Bgal/d in 2000, or 12 percent less than in 1995. Compared to 1985, industrial self-supplied withdrawals declined by 24 percent. Estimates of industrial water use in the United States were largest during the years from 1965 to 1980, but during 2000, estimates were at the lowest level since reporting began in 1950. Combined withdrawals for self-supplied domestic, livestock, aquaculture, and mining were less than 13 Bgal/d for 2000, and represented about 3 percent of total withdrawals.

California, Texas, and Florida accounted for one-fourth of all water withdrawals for 2000. States with the largest surface-water withdrawals were California, which had large withdrawals for irrigation and thermoelectric power, and Texas, which had large withdrawals for thermoelectric power. States with the largest ground-water withdrawals were California, Texas, and Nebraska, all of which had large withdrawals for irrigation.


The work of the scientists, technicians, and support staff of the USGS with respect to the country's water resources is very important for dealing with the long-term health and quality of life of the country's citizens and their overall economic strength. The water resources of the United States—including its ground water, streams, rivers, lakes, aquifers, and reservoirs—provide drinking water, transport products, support industries, and provide recreational opportunities, along with many other purposes to each and every person in the United States. Because of these complex and varied purposes, the proper management of these water resources is a critical job for local, county, state, and federal levels of government.

As a result, employees of the WRD, under the guidance of the USGS, manage the national water program, called the National Research Program, and state and regional water programs. These state and regional programs include: the National Streamflow Information Program, the Cooperative Water Program, the State Water Resources Research Institute Program, the Toxic Substances Hydrology (Toxics) Program, the National Water Quality Assessment Program, the Ground Water Resources Program, the Hydrologic Research and Development Program, and the Hydrologic Networks and Analysis Program. Personnel within the WRD also work with subprograms within the above programs and within international programs.

One USGS/WRD program of particular importance is the Cooperative Water Program (CWP). The CWP provides basic scientific information that managers of water resources need in order to provide the optimum water services for their particular region of the country. With its continuing cooperative partnerships involving about 1,400 non-federal agencies (which consist of county, state, tribal, municipal, and other agencies, who are called Cooperators), as of 2003, the CWP maintains reliable and consistent procedures and quality-assurance agreements in conducting its national projects. Together, the CWP and Cooperators plan the scientific work that is necessary in order to meet all stated objectives and goals for both parties.

Consequently, the CWP has broad interest and widespread use among Cooperators due to its quick and reliable response to emerging issues, along with its technical expertise, long-standing performance record of providing high-quality measurements and assessments, and its serious commitment to providing public access to the data it has collected over the years.

Because the CWP is a non-regulatory scientific agency, disputing parties involved in complaints and arguments over jurisdictions, regulations, or other problems will generally acknowledge its data and analysis as accurate and valid due to its nonpartisan nature. In order not to repeat work already in existence, the CWP obtains information from both government and non-government organizations before proceeding with projects. It specifically lists activities and programs that it has exempted itself from performing, realizing that others are already providing valid services in such areas.

The CWP supports and encourages the collection of basic hydrologic data, along with the continuing research studies of specific water-based problems. As a result, activities of the CWP contribute significantly to emerging water-resource issues across the country. Examples of such issues include improved understanding of the association between land-use changes and the physical habitat of surface waters; the changing behavior of freshwater-saltwater interactions in ground-water environments along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts; and the specific role of the sciences in managing and maintaining ground-water resources.

The information that is collected by the CWP is gathered into the National Water Information System (NWIS), which now includes data from about 1.5 million sites in all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, including water levels from over one million wells, stream-flow data from over 21,000 sites, and chemical data from about 338,000 sites involving ground water, lakes, rivers, springs, and streams.

As shown here in this discussion, the WRD is a valuable agency for coordinating the water resources in the United States. With the expertise and experience of its scientists and technicians, and the backing of the USGS and the Department of the Interior, the WRD is a critical partner in the country's actions and laws to maintain and improve the ways and means that all individuals and groups within the United States use water for their personal and business activities. In actuality, water is a national resource that must be accurately coordinated and regulated at the national level for proper maintenance and use at local, municipal, state, and regional levels.


Web sites

Taggart, Bruce E. "Cooperative Water Program—A Partnership in the Nation's Water-Resources Program." U.S. Geological Survey, July 8, 2004. 〈http://water.usgs.gov/pubs/fs/2004/3068〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Agricultural Library. "Water Quality Information Center: Databases." U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Agricultural Library. 〈http://www.nal.usda.gov/wqic/dbases.html〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Water." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 〈http://www.epa.gov/ebtpages/water.html〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

――――――. "Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 〈http://www.epa.gov/owow〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

U.S. Geological Survey. "National Research Program Home Page." U.S. Geological Survey. 〈http://water.usgs.gov/nrp〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

――――――. "Water Resources of the United States: Water Resources Mission." U.S. Geological Survey. 〈http://water.usgs.gov/mission.html〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

――――――. "Water Resources of the United States: Water Resources Programs." U.S. Geological Survey. 〈http://water.usgs.gov/programs.html〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

――――――. "Water Supply and Demand." U.S. Geological Survey. 〈http://www.usgs.gov/science/science.php?term=1311〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).