How We Waste & Lose Water Everyday In Society (In Agriculture, Industry, & Households)

There are three main sectors responsible for global fresh water withdrawals in society – agriculture, industry, and municipal use.

In the guide below, we look at the different ways water might be wasted and lost across the three sectors.

This guide may complement a separate guide we put together outlining how water might be used more efficiently or sustainably across these sectors.


Summary – How We Waste & Lose Water Everyday In Society

Why It Might Be Important To Understand How We Waste & Lose Water Across The Major Sectors

We already mentioned above that these sectors are major water users across society.

Additionally, agriculture (particularly irrigation) and energy generation (which is part of industry) water demand is also forecast to increase in the future according to some reports.

It may therefore make sense to be aware of where we are wasting and losing water across these sectors, so that we can find ways to be more efficient and sustainable with water use and water management across these sectors in the future 

This might be one way of ensuring we have enough water for the future.


How Much Water Do Each Of These Sectors Withdraw On Average?

The global average water withdrawals for each sector might be:

Agriculture (and irrigation) – 70%

Industrial (& particularly wet cooling in thermo electric power plants) – 19%

Municipal (public services and households) – 11%


However, these averages can also differ between individual countries (especially in more industrialized vs less industrialized countries).


How We Might Lose Or Waste Water In Agriculture

Irrigation is a major water user in agriculture, and may be one of the main sources of water loss and waste in the sector

Specifically, inefficient (and imprecise) irrigation systems, leaks in irrigation systems, and wasteful irrigation methods (which lead to runoff, evapotranspiration, etc.) may be key causes of water waste and loss.

Some countries may be responsible for more of the world’s total water use from irrigation than others, and some individual water users in agriculture may use far more water than others


We list some of the other potential causes for water loss and waste in agriculture in the guide below.


How We Might Lose Or Waste Water In Industry

Dumping waste water without treating or reusing/recycling it

Water pollution (from dumping waste water and other contaminants), which degrades water quality for other water uses

Water leaks from various industrial processes, and equipment

Cooling systems (like once through cooling systems that use freshwater) for thermo electric power generation at power plants may use a lot of water – there may be potential to reduce inefficient water use or water waste here in the future


How We Might Lose Or Waste Water For Municipal Use

Some of the main stages that water might be lost of wasted at when used for municipal use, might include:

– At water treatment plants (before being transported via the public supply network)

– In the public water supply network (in pipes and pipe networks)

– At the household level

– When used for public services

– At wastewater treatment plants (after being used in households and other places)


Some of the main ways water is wasted or lost for municipal use might be:

– Water lost in pipes and public water supply networks BEFORE it gets to it’s destination (these pipes/networks/mains, and this infrastructure, are usually owned by water companies)

– Water lost at the household level, with an individual’s food footprint making up a significant part of their overall water footprint, but also things like household leaks, direct household water use, other forms of indirect household water use (like electricity use), and so on

– Water lost or wasted when used for public services (like public irrigation)

– In some countries, water theft and other issues specific to these countries may be a problem


We include more information on water loss and waste for municipal use in the guide below, including but not limited to causes, and stats and trends.


Each Geographic Location & Individual Water User Might Waste Or Lose Water Differently

Each geographic location and individual water user needs it’s own assessment of how it’s losing and wasting water.

The information contained in this guide is generalized information on waste and loss only


How We Might Waste & Lose Water In Agriculture (& Irrigation)

Note that the information below comes from a combination of our own knowledge and research, but also paraphrasing from various reports, such as,,,,,, and

Some of the ways water might be wasted or lost in agriculture might include:


– Irrigation Runoff & Evapotranspiration

Water used for irrigation can be wasted via either runoff, or evapotranspiration, instead of being absorbed immediately by soil and crops


Currently … 60 percent of the water diverted or pumped for irrigation is wasted—via runoff into waterways or evapotranspiration [and, this does not have to be the case] (


– Unsustainable Irrigation Practices

Some irrigation practices lead to more water waste than others,

Field flooding might be one example, as it can waste more water through evaporation


About 40 percent of water used in irrigation is wasted through unsustainable practices such as field flooding (


– Inefficient/Wasteful Irrigation Systems

Some irrigation systems are inefficient in how they distribute water.

As one example, some may not be precise in terms of distributing water to locations where that water can be used most effectively

This can be a result of a range of things, such as the irrigation system itself lacking certain features or lacking a certain design, or, how the irrigation system is laid out.


[Some] irrigation systems … are [only] 30 to 40 percent efficient (


– Leaks In Irrigation Systems

Leaks in irrigation systems leads to water loss and waste where it could otherwise be avoided if there was less leakage.


– Some Countries May Be Responsible For More Total Water Use From Irrigation Than Others 

Some reports indicate that half (or slightly more) of the total area being irrigated worldwide is located in Pakistan, China and India

These regions of the world may therefore be responsible for more water waste or loss (although this may have to be confirmed with data)


– Some Farmers May Not Be Paying The Real Price Of Water

In some regions, some farmers may not pay the real price of water – they may be paying a subsidized or discounted price (due to a water allocation scheme or some other system)

This may in some cases result in excessive or inefficient use of water.


– Soil Health & Soil Issues

Soil health can impact a range of things such as yield, production, and how well soil can retain water

Poor soil health can happen as a result of a range of factors, but, specific problems like soil erosion and soil salinity (or salt build up), can contribute to it.


– Water Pollution From Agriculture 

When water is polluted, the quality of the water is degraded.

The water is effectively ‘lost’ at this point, as it may become unsuitable for some uses without treatment

Waterways and ground water in particular can be polluted from agriculture, particularly from agricultural fertiliser runoff, pesticide use and livestock effluents


– Intentionally Growing Water Hungry Crops

Some may not consider this a form of water waste, whilst some might.

But, choosing to grow more water hungry crops over less water hungry crops may waste more water (assuming less water hungry crops can feasibly be grown in their place)

Potential examples in some regions of the world might include rice, cotton, sugarcane, and some types of meat (whereby animals need feed crops grown for them)

Beverages like fruit juices may also be more water intensive than just water, as they require crop production in the form of fruit crops or plantations


– Intentionally Growing In Hot Climates

Some may not consider this a form of water waste or loss, whilst some might.

But, growing in hotter climates may lead to more water from irrigation evaporating before it can be absorbed by the soil, as opposed to evaporation not being as much of an issue in cooler climates, or places with less heat. mentions that (paraphrased) some southern countries may see lower production rates for the amount of water used because of warmer temperatures (but, also water leaks in water supply distribution networks)


– Financial & Political Problems

In some regions around the world, financial and political problems may limit the ability of farmers to replace or upgrade inefficient or leaky irrigation systems


– Food Loss & Food Waste

Food loss might generally occur in the supply chain, and food waste might generally occur at the consumer level.

Because there’s a water footprint to produce food, food waste and loss may indirectly lead to water waste.


How We Might Waste & Lose Water In Industry

Note that the information below comes from a combination of our own knowledge and research, but also paraphrasing from various reports, such as,,,,, and

Some of the ways water might be wasted or lost in industry might include:


– Via The Biggest Water Users In Industry (& The Industrial Processes That Use The Most Water)

In this guide, we outline the industries that might use the most water.

It makes sense then that a notable % of water lost or wasted in industry might be lost or wasted via these industries and industry processes.

A report we reference in that guide is from, which outlines water use across different industries in the US.

They note that agriculture and power generation (specifically the thermoelectric-power industry, and electricity production) withdraw a lot of water directly.

Electrical power production in particular uses more water than any other single industrial process, particularly in cooling systems.

However, there’s also other general industrial processes to consider, like fabricating, processing, washing, diluting, or transporting a product; incorporating water into a product; or for sanitation needs within the manufacturing facility

In addition to direct water use, there’s also indirect water usage to consider (such as water used throughout the supply chain)


– Using Less Efficient Or Less Sustainable Cooling Systems For Energy & Power Generation 

For example, once through cooling systems might only use water a single time before discharging it (to the sewer, or elsewhere)


– Not Treating Or Recycling/Reusing Wastewater

Water used in industry can be polluted or contaminated, or can generally experience a degradation of water quality at the point it becomes waste water.

Wastewater might be disposed of or discharged of into the environment, and can’t be used again for some uses unless it’s recovered and treated before re-use.

Currently, some estimates indicate that about 80% of waste water is released into the environment without treatment on a worldwide scale.

The textile industry may be one of the biggest creators of wastewater worldwide


According to

Wastewater in industry and business is a major cause of water loss and waste


– Water Pollution

Water polluted or contaminated from industrial processes is water that isn’t of a suitable water quality to be used for certain uses without being treated first

Water can be polluted by waste water, or, a number of contaminants from industrial processes


– Leaks

Leaks can occur across most industries and industrial processes, especially on equipment and water pipes



[At] processing plants [there are] leaky water pipes, fittings, and valves.

Often leaks occur because standard proper pipe fitting and plumbing techniques have not been used, such as using incompatible piping material and sealant compounds.


– A Lack Of Clean In Place Systems

These are automated cleaning systems that reduce the need to disassemble pipes, equipment, etc. for cleaning


– Condensate Not Being Recovered

Condensate is instead lost, and can’t be reused


– Water Intensive Energy Sources

Some may not consider this a form of water loss or waste, whilst others might.

But, some energy sources might use more water for energy generation than others.

To use one example, coal may be more water intensive than some renewable energy sources like solar or wind at the operation stage.


– Water Intensive Food Manufacturing

Again – some may not consider this a form of water loss or waste, whilst others might.

Specifically when it comes to food manufacturing though (as opposed to the production of food in crops and on farms), one report indicates that the industrial processes for some foods such as sugar, pet food, and milk, can use a lot of direct, and indirect water


How We Might Waste & Lose Water For Municipal Use

Note that the information below comes from a combination of our own knowledge and research, but also paraphrasing from various reports, such as,,,,,, and

Some of the ways water might be wasted or lost in agriculture might include:


– Losing Water At Water Treatment Plants

Some water treatment plants may lose or waste water, especially if they have leaks


– Losing Water From Pipes In The Public Water Supply Network

In general, this might be from leaking pipes, and burst pipes

Other more specific causes might be the construction/design of inadequate infrastructure by major water companies, not maintaining pipe networks that are aging, metering inaccuracies, unmetered authorised consumption, a lack of leakage control measures, a lack of pressure management in pipes, a lack of technology like intelligent water pumps, a lack of leak detection features like sensors and software, a lack of auditing and reporting processes, a lack of data collection for water companies/suppliers which signals to them how their pipes are performing and how they can be improved to prevent leaks and water loss, no clear and transparent targets for major water companies relating to water leak and water loss reductions, and so on.

Some water companies might be worser offenders of lost or wasted water in their supply mains and pipe networks than others, and companies might be compared against one another in terms of their performance in this regard

In some parts of the world, theft can lead to lost water too discusses different causes of pipe network water loss in their report


– Losing Water From Leaks Around The House

Water leaks at home can make up a notable % of overall water use at home in some instances.

Pipes, taps/faucets, and other items and devices can leak water.


– Wasting Water Indirectly Through Our Food Footprint At Home

Our food footprint is part of our indirect water footprint at home, and it may actually have the largest water footprint of the direct and indirect water individuals use at home.

Not wasting or throwing out food may be one way to cut down on an individual’s food related water footprint at home


– Excessively Using Water Or Wasting Water For Activities Around The House

Like for example, using excessive water by running taps/faucets when not using them, having longer showers than necessary, partially loading dishwashers and washing machines instead of fully loading them, running the garden hose when not necessary, and so on.

In this guide, we identify where we use the most water at home for a better idea of things that might waste the most water at home when not used in a sustainable way


– Using Appliances & Devices In The Household That Aren’t Water Efficient

Some appliances and devices might rate low in terms of water efficiency, and it might be argued using these appliances and devices over some water efficient appliances and devices is wasting water

Examples of household appliances and devices might include dishwashers, washing machines, tap/faucets, showers, toilets, and so on

We’ve included some data in this guide about how much water water efficient appliances and devices might use compared to standard appliances.

Even in terms of light bulbs, incandescent bulbs might use/waste more water than fluorescent bulbs, per unit of electricity


– Using Less Water Efficient Energy Sources For Electricity At Home

For example, some renewables like solar and wind might be more water efficient than coal in some instances


– Wasting Or Losing Water Outdoors At Home

Inefficient and leaking irrigation and sprinkler systems (for gardens, lawns, etc.) at home can waste or lose water (especially if they aren’t maintained). 

Using a hose instead of a bucket of water for washing the car can unnecessarily waste water

In hotter climates, more water can be required for lawns and gardens, and evaporation can be more of an issue

Larger gardens and lawned areas outdoors require more water than paved, concreted, and hard surfaces that don’t require watering


… up to 50% of the water we use outdoors can be lost due to wind, evaporation, and runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods and systems (


– At The Public Service Level, Irrigation Systems & Sprinklers Might Waste Water Or Lose Water

Some irrigation and sprinkler systems used for watering public parks, reserves, sports fields, and so on, might either have leaks, or not be as water efficient as they can be (due to their design, settings, layout, or some other factor or feature)


– Stats & Trends On Water Waste & Loss Globally, & In Different Countries discusses water loss and waste on a global scale in 2015, and indicates that ’46bn litres of drinking water are lost globally every day’

They provide a list of the main causes for losing drinking water. The causes may differ between lower income/underdeveloped countries vs higher income/more developed countries outlines (paraphrased) how much total water is wasted and lost, and what the household average for water lost from leaks is in the US in 2014


From ‘In the United States, 6 billion gallons of treated water are lost per day from leaky pipes alone’ indicates that ‘About 8 percent of water supplied to Californian homes [was] wasted [in 2015, and] The drip of leaky pipes and faucets in homes are the main causes …’


From ‘[The UK] is losing around three billion litres of water each year to leaking pipes’.


[In the UK in 2018…] In total a third of water taken from the natural environment is wasted through leaks, wastage in treatment plants and in private homes … (


[In the UK public water supply system in 2017 …] 20% of all water [leaked] out before it even [reaching homes] ( discusses the public water supply system in the UK, in 2017, and shares information on …

[How the water leak rate year on year may be stagnant or not improving]

[The water company that is the biggest offender of leaks on a per day, per kilometre of mains basis, and what national averages for water leaks are, and how per property, per day water leak rates should be considered] discusses water loss and leakage in 2017 in the UK & Wales, and shares information on …

[How much water England and Wales lose everyday from leakage]

[The worst and best water supply providers in terms of the most and least leakage per property]

[The increase of leakage rates annually] discusses the public supply water supply in Western Australia in 2014, and provides information on …

[Undetected leakage from pipes which accounts for most of the recoverable water loss from the water supply network]

[Most of the water supplied by the water supply corporation was metered consumption, but a smaller portion is not metered or billed for, or was physically lost] notes that (paraphrased) at municipal wastewater treatment plants, a large amount of treated effluent water/grey water can be discharged into surface ponds. This water might be classified as being wasted, as it might have potential to be treated and re-used as wastewater instead


How We Might Use Water More Efficiently & Sustainably In Agriculture, Industry, & For Municipal Use

We put together a separate guide listed potential ways to use water more efficiently and sustainably in agriculture, industry and for municipal use
































29. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides





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