Some Perspective on Water Usage


Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © 2015 Brent C. Dickerson

          A recent article in the Los Angeles Times prompted me to do some research. The article was on water usage in Los Angeles County; and I felt that it was misleading because, while water usage in largely urbanized L.A. County might be one way or another, water is sourced from throughout the State. To draw or suggest inferences based on one without citing the other gives an inaccurate impression of the situation.

          Yes, just in L.A., the principal use of water is by single-family households; but this approaches insignificance when you consider that, statewide, approximately 50% of the water used in the State is for "environmental uses," and 40% of the total water used is consumed by Agriculture (these figures are given in this Wikipedia article Water in California, as given at time of writing). The remaining 10% is for "all other uses."

          It is patently unfair that the residential water user is made the whipping boy during periods of drought when all the reasonable savings a committed homeowner could conceivably manage would make no effective difference in relieving the drought. Using figures supplied by the EPA for the nation as a whole, I've been checking some other figures. The "average household" uses (not wastes, but uses) 320 gallons of water a day, which is 116,800 gallons per year (in a 365 day year). The EPA specifies that 30% of this represents the household's "outdoor uses." The late Sunset Blvd. incident wasted approximately 20 million gallons. That would have been full water usage by one average household for over 171 years. And yet the water department officials scoff at the significance of this incident (while still scolding residential water users about their habits!). Considering outdoor usage by the average household (the 30% mentioned above), the EPA says "as much as" 50% of this is wasted. That would be 48 gallons a day of wastage by the average household, which, in a year, would be 17,520 gallons. Let's say that our average householders managed not to waste that 17,520. That's very nice; but it would take over 1141 householders saving that amount to equal what was wasted in the Sunset Blvd. incident. To put it another way, the Sunset Blvd. incident wasted a whole year of strenuous efforts at conservation by over 1141 households. And yet the water department officials found this insignificant when the fault was theirs.

          The EPA also supplies a pie chart, dated 2005, of "freshwater withdrawals." Here are the percentages of water usage, in descending order: Thermoelectric power, 41.5% Irrigation, 37% Domestic, 8.5% "Other Publicly Supplied Users," 5.4% Industrial, 5% Aquaculture, 2.6% (They note that mining and livestock account for 1%, which I suppose is part of the Industrial category.) Look at the above, and note that the top two line-items, Thermoelectric Power and Irrigation, account for no less than 76.5% of water usage. Even if one would say that the water used by Thermoelectric Power is then still available afterwards for other uses and so eliminate that category, Domestic (household) use still trails fair behind the "final" (i.e., not available for other uses afterwards) usages for combined Irrigation, "Other," Industrial, and Aquaculture. And yet, it is us, "Domestic," with our little 8.5%, which is made the whipping boy during a drought!

Return to BCD Home Page . . .


Index of Past Essays.