Where, oh where does all that water go?

So, now we know where water comes from (rain and other types of precipitation), but where does it all go?

We know rivers, lakes and groundwater provide us with the water we use within our western states. If we added all the water flowing in just the three major river systems; Snake, Sacramento and Colorado (not the additional nine river systems); on a daily basis we would have about 67 billion gallons of water flowing per day! If we were to include the other nine river systems another 6.5Billion gallons flow each day. That’s daily total of 72 billon gallons flowing in our rivers per day. That does not include the groundwater that’s pumped each day.


I now know why the experts speak in acre-feet, but to keep it simple, I’ll continue to use gallons (which we all understand.) First some simple math 1acre-foot of water equals 325,851gallons of water. So when Government speaks in acre-feet of water, that’s a lot of gallons!

During the recent drought in Southern California each “person” based on their water meter was asked to use less that 150 gal/ day. If we assume 60 million people living in the Western USA that’s at least 9 billion gallons used daily during the drought. What’s up with the other 63 billion gallons?

Well, farming consumes most of our water, which make sense since we eat daily and have access to such an abundant amount and variety of foods. So farming consumes about 65 billion gallons each day, industry consumes about 2 billion a day, humans (and our cities) consumes 11 billion gallons each day and let’s not forget about our planet – the rivers fish, forests and environment needs and requirements still more. That leaves about 6 billion gallons each day for everything else, running into the ground, oceans or just left to evaporation.

Oh, did I forget one user of water, seldom talked about, that uses lots of water? Thermal power generation uses about 7 billion gallons every day. What is thermal power generation you ask? Well it’s our electric grid. Most of the electricity we use is generated using turbine steam power, easily 80% of all the electricity we consume. I know what you’re thinking what about solar. Good thought. But remember, it takes industry to produce solar panels. Though solar produces about 15% of our electricity saving roughly 1 billion gallons a day of power plant cooling water.

Obviously, we really need access to more water. Yes, we could conserve more – but even if we cut our use by an additional 10% (industry and humans, not farming), it would only result in a small impact on society (prices and lifestyle impacted, every item we buy increases in price), And, that’s only about 1 billion gallons a day. Wow, but in reality that’s just a population increase of about 8 million, so in the end we need more water, or less people.

So, can we all agree that whatever we do, conserve, less farming or fewer people, the only viable long term solution includes accessing more water? So, what the possibilities? How can we access more water?