The United States took more than 400 billion gallons of water out of the ground, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs daily in 2005. That’s more than a thousand gallons per person, per day.


Energy takes a lot of water. In 2000, irrigation and energy both accounted for almost 40 percent of water use, according to figures by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

By 2005, thermoelectric power bypassed agriculture to become the largest user of this water, using it to cool thermoelectric generators and create steam for turbines. Seventy percent of energy-related water use is in fossil-fuel based electricity generation, according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report.


While we need water to generate electricity, we also use electricity to generate water. More than a fifth of U.S. freshwater used in 2005 was taken from groundwater, which requires energy to pump it.

In arid states the energy use is even more extreme.

In California, nearly 20 percent of the state’s electricity, 30 percent of its natural gas, and 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year go to water-related energy use, including pumping, treatment, and reuse. The single largest source of energy demand in California is the state’s Water Project, which pumps water from the north to the south over the Tehachapi mountains.

For more about water, groundwater, depletion, and the water cycle see here.


  • Energy and Water: Implications for Energy Development. Office of Energy Projects, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. April 7, 2010.
  •  California’s Water-Energy Relationship: Prepared in Support of the 2005 Integrated Energy Policy Report Proceeding E. California Energy Commission, November 2005.
  •  Kenny, J.F., Barber, N.L., Hutson, S.S., Linsey, K.S., Lovelace, J.K., and Maupin, M.A., 2009. Estimated use of water in the United States in 2005; U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1344, 52 p.
  •  “U.S. Geological Survey Groundwater Modeling Software: Making Sense of a Complex Natural Resource.” US Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. Fact Sheet 2009-3105 November 2009.
  •  “Ground-Water Depletion Across the Nation.” U.S Geological Survey Fact Sheet 103-03, November 2003
  •  “Land subsidence in the United States.” by Devin Galloway, David R. Jones, and S.E. Ingebritsen
  •  U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1182
  •  U.S. Energy Information Administration
  •  U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  •  California Energy Commission