American industry's thirst for water: First study of its kind in 30 years

March 31, 2010
Manufacturers, farmers, shippers and others in the "supply chain" use almost 270 gallons of water to put $1 worth of sugar on supermarket shelves, according to a new study documenting American industry’s water use. Credit: iStock

How many gallons of water does it take to produce $1 worth of sugar, dog and cat food, or milk? The answers appear in the first comprehensive study in 30 years documenting American industry's thirst for this precious resource. The study, which could lead to better ways to conserve water, is in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology.

Chris Hendrickson and colleagues note in the new study that industry (including agriculture) long has been recognized as the biggest consumer of water in the United States. However, estimates of water consumption on an industry-by-industry basis are incomplete and outdated, with the last figures from the U.S. Census Bureau dating to 1982.

They estimated water use among more than 400 industry sectors — from finished products to services — using a special computer model. The new data shows that most water use by industry occurs indirectly as a result of processing, such as packaging and shipping food crops to the supermarket, rather than direct use, such as watering crops. Among the findings for consumer products: It takes almost 270 gallons of water to produce $1 worth of sugar; 200 gallons of water to make $1 worth of dog and cat food; and 140 gallons of water to make $1 worth of milk. "The study gives a way to look at how we might use water more efficiently and allows us to hone in on the sectors that use the most so we can start generating ideas and technologies for better management," the scientists note.

Explore further: U.S. buys water to protect minnow

More information: "Direct and Indirect Water Withdrawals for U.S. Industrial Sectors", Environmental Science & Technology.

Related Stories

U.S. buys water to protect minnow

July 14, 2006

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is buying water from Santa Fe, N.M., to protect the endangered silvery minnow swimming in the Rio Grande.

Recommended for you

History shows more big wildfires likely as climate warms

October 5, 2015

The history of wildfires over the past 2,000 years in a northern Colorado mountain range indicates that large fires will continue to increase as a result of a warming climate, according to new study led by a University of ...

Predictable ecosystems may be more fragile

October 7, 2015

When it comes to using our natural resources, human beings want to know what we're going to get. We expect clean water every time we turn on the tap; beaches free of algae and bacteria; and robust harvests of crops, fish ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.