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

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

In each of these three sectors, there are various ways we waste or lose water that we might otherwise be able to use, save or re-use.

In this guide, we look at the different ways we waste and lose water across the three sectors.

We also look at potential solutions that may reduce or eliminate water loss and waste. 

 

Summary – How We Waste & Lose Water Everyday In Society

Water waste and loss can contribute to a number of water issues across society.

Ultimately, water waste and loss percentages across the different sectors of society are going to be different in every individual country, State/province, region, and city or town.

Each geographic location therefore needs it’s own assessment (data and reporting) of how it’s losing and wasting water.

But, some of the general ways we lose and waste water directly, or indirectly through inefficient or water intensive activity are:

 

Agriculture (& Irrigation)

Agriculture can be the largest, but also one of the most inefficient water users

Some estimates indicate that 60% of the water diverted or pumped for irrigation is wasted via runoff into waterways or evapotranspiration, and that it can be avoided

On top of this, irrigation systems can be inefficient and wasteful (only 30 to 40% efficient in some instances), leak, lack precision, and not be as effective as they could be with better technology or better designed systems (especially where flood irrigation is used, and water evaporates from the field)

Certain farming practices can lead to less effective irrigation. Not maintaining soil health is one example, as poor soil health limits the ability of the soil to retain water. Soil erosion and salt buildup [are further potential problems from] irrigation

Some sources indicate that not enough alternatives to irrigation are used in farming, such as rainwater harvesting, and treated waste water

There can be political and financial barriers to upgrading irrigation systems and renewing distribution networks

The true supply cost of water is not being paid by the agricultural industry in some regions, and this can lead to excessive water use

There can be intensive ground water pumping in some regions, and this is particular a problem when the withdrawal rate far exceeds the renewal/regeneration rate of the aquifer (water flows, rainfalls and regeneration 

Water pollution from fertilizer runoff, pesticide use and livestock effluent degrades water resources and leads to less available water to use in the total water supply. Agriculture can be a major water polluter

Growing water hungry crops and products, and growing in dry and hot climates (where low rainfall and evaporation can be issues), can both use more water than is necessary, compared to growing other types of crops and products, and importing or finding other ways to minimize farming in hot and dry climates

Some sources indicate that fruit and vegetable agriculture uses more water than meat production in the US, and almost a third of the water used in agriculture goes to animal products, and one third of that water goes to beef cattle. Sugar can also be water intensive alongside animal products (which is part of what makes the US’ per capita water consumption higher than average)

In some parts of the world, the amount of water used in agriculture compared to the agricultural production/yield is poor when compared to more industrialized countries. This is in part due to up to 50% of the water that is destined for irrigation evaporating due to high temperatures or gets lost due to leaks in the water supply distribution networks

 

Industry (& Energy Generation)

Alongside agriculture, energy generation is a major water user in several developed countries

Agriculture and power are responsible for the most direct water withdrawals – about 90%

But, about 60% of water usage is indirect, and about 96 percent of industry sectors use more water indirectly than directly in their supply chains

Waste water not being re-used directly, or not being treated and then re-used or recycled – this is perhaps where there is the most potential to save water in industrial activity 

Waste water not being treated before being discharged, and polluting water sources

Electrical power production uses more water than any other single industrial process

Thermo electric power generation can use the most water in industry, especially when they use fresh water for cooling equipment. This can be a problem with once through cooling water systems. But, if the water is withdrawn and returned to the environment instead of consumed and removed from the water supply, this may not be as much of a problem

Water use in energy production can be measured across every stage of the process, and can be measured in terms of a per kilowatt hour of electricity produced measurement

Certain types of energy production are more water efficient (when considering the water used per kilowatt hour of electricity produced) – natural gas and renewable energy for example might be more water efficient than coal or biofuels

On a per energy per unit volume of water consumed basis, natural gas might be 14 times more efficient than some types of coal, and some types of bioenergy might be very water intensive due to the water required to both grow bio material, and then turn it into energy

Carbon capture and storage used for energy production may also use more water

[It should be noted though that some energy generation sources return water to the source – they should be differentiated to energy generation sources that consume water without returning it]

Using salt water for cooling stead of fresh water might be better for water conservation in some instances

Water can be lost through leaks in industry – at processing plants via pipes, fittings and valves. Inadequate pipe fitting and plumbing techniques can be a problem (materials and compounds used can be incompatible for example)

A lack of clean in place systems, or sustainable CIP systems

Not recovering condensate

Producing products that have water intensive industrial processes

Not being aware of the full direct and indirect water usage of different products

In terms of beverages. the production and bottling processes aren’t as water intensive as the farming and agriculture required for the sugar, barley, fruits, etc. that go into the beverages

The textile industry is one of the biggest creators of wastewater worldwide

Certain processes/stages of automotive manufacturing use more water than others

Food, metals, paper, chemicals, and gasoline and oils (refined petroleum) industrial processes might use the most water in terms of types of products

Read more about water use in different industries in this guide

 

Municipal (& Households)

Water can be lost and wasted either prior to getting to those who use the public water supply (like households and businesses), or after getting there (i.e. at the household or public service level)

Water can be lost through leaks in public water supply networks and pipes that are aging, poorly constructed and designed, or that haven’t been properly managed or maintained, or repaired

Water can also be lost through wastage and waste water in water treatment plants (like for example grey water that isn’t treated, and is simply discharged into the environment)

In regards to public supply water pipes owned by water companies, a lack of active leakage control and pressure management such as sensors, leak detection software, intelligent water pumps, water audit programs, and an overall lack of systems to track and monitor water distribution, leak and use can lead to water loss and waste

Some water supply companies might be worse offenders regarding leaks and water loss than others on a per property basis. Comparisons can be made in this regard

Metering inaccuracies, and unmetered authorized consumption are some further causes of water loss and waste prior to water getting to households

Of the total water supplied by water supply companies, most of the water might be metered consumption, but a portion of it might not be (this water is usually either not metered or billed for, or is physically lost)

Water theft happens in some parts of the world

Developing countries face much more severe challenges than developed countries, such as meeting basic water access and sanitation/hygiene standards, that prevent them from focusing on preventing leaks and water waste i.e. free up resources to reduce water loss and leakage

The burden of managing water loss is often put on utilities and government, but corporations need to get involved, as well as other parties. Corporations, governments, and utilities all need to work together to address water supply side water loss and waste – the burden can’t just fall on one or two of the parties

Large scale water mains replacements and upgrades can be disruptive and difficult to do for various reasons – especially in big cities like London as one example

Some leakage from public supply pipes is detected, and some is undetected

Some water is recoverable, and some water is not. Currently undetected water might make up most of the recoverable water loss

Water leakage and loss from public supply pipes can’t be completely eliminated, but each city or town might figure out what the lowest achievable level of water loss might be (that is detectable and recoverable water) is in a given year, and work around those numbers

The fact that water mains maintenance, repairs and new construction can be disruptive, and that water mains in big cities are often under busy roads or hard to reach places is a challenge

After water reaches households, water is lost through household leaks – pipes, faucets, toilets and so on

Some appliances and devices can be old and water inefficient, and some appliances and devices are used wastefully

People can use their appliances and devices in a way that wastes water unnecessarily e.g. by not fully loading their dishwasher or washing machine with every use

People can run water from taps unnecessarily when not in use, or instead of filling a sink and turning the tap off

People using water outside their house in hot and dry climates may use more water

People with more lawn and plants, or certain types of lawn and plants may use more water

People with irrigation systems, sprinklers, swimming pools, and other higher use systems and outside products at home may use more water

Using water outside on a property (for lawns, gardens, etc) inefficiently or wastefully. Irrigation and sprinkler systems can also leak outside, and wind, evaporation, and runoff contributes to water loss with inefficient (and ineffective) irrigation methods and systems. Irrigation systems also need to be maintained so they operate properly

When looking at water waste and loss, it might be good to split up drinking water and non drinking water into different categories

It’s possible to look at the yearly leakage and water loss rates from pipes, and see if it’s increasing or decreasing (as a % of total water supplied)

It’s possible to calculate how much water is lost or leaked from the public supply on a per day or per year basis. It can also be calculated per mile of main supply pipe. A national average can be obtained, and leaks in any one geographic area can be compared to the national average

 

Potential Solutions

We’ve outlined potential solutions for each sector in the this guide further down below.

Also, we’ve listed another set of different ways to sustainably manage and use water that can be applied generally across each major sector

 

Other Notes …

Water waste and loss can even extend to include the opportunity cost of producing and using a more water intensive product over a less water intensive product (when looking at the full product lifecycle of each product)

A society’s choice of products, activities, lifestyles, governments, and social systems impact our ability to have sustainable water resources and supplies

Having said that – some activities or products/services might have an in built amount of non recoverable water waste and lost built into them. For example, it might be either impossible to avoid a certain amount of water waste and loss, or, there may not practically be an accessible or feasible solution/alternative available in a geographic area

 

Where We Use The Most Water Is Where We Are Likely To Lose & Waste A lot Of Water

You can read this guide to find out exactly where we use water in different sectors and industries.

On average, globally we use around 70% on agriculture, 19% in industry and power generation, and 11% on households and public services.

Some developing and low income countries might use more in agriculture (up to 90%), and some developed and industrialized countries can use up to and over 50% on industry and power generation.

It makes sense that agriculture (and irrigation) firstly, and industry/power generation secondly is where we might waste and lose a lot of water.

Each country, region and city in the world will lose and waste water in different ways and in different shares.

 

Why It’s Important Not To Waste And Lose Water

Some of the main reasons include, but aren’t limited to:

We need water for a range of critical uses in society

The effects associated with water quantity related issues can be severe in water scarce and water stressed regions

The waste and loss of water contributes to global water problems

 

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

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]

– worldwatch.org

 

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

– water.jhu.edu

 

The agricultural sector is the largest and often one of the most inefficient users of water [particularly from intensive groundwater pumping that depletes aquifers, and because some farmers aren’t paying the real or full supply cost of the water they are using … which can lead to excessive or inefficient use of water]

… agriculture is also a major source of water pollution of water ways and ground water sources from agricultural fertiliser runoff, pesticide use and livestock effluents [which degrades water quality and can make it unsuitable for other uses]

– oecd.org

 

[Growing water hungry crops like rice uses more water]

In southern countries of the world [the production achieved from the amount of water used in agriculture is very poor compared to industrialized countries] as half of the water destined for irrigation evaporates due to high temperatures or gets lost due to leaks in the water supply distribution networks.

Serious financial and political problems limit [the ability to upgrade and renew water systems]

… withdrawal for irrigation uses … [in many cases exceeds the natural regeneration/renewal rate of the water sources being withdrawn from]

– eniscuola.net

 

… wasteful irrigation systems are major contributors to water scarcity 

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

[Agricultural] fields that temporarily flood is also a major problem because most of that water is wasted through evaporation

… pesticide and herbicide runoff from farm fields … pollute rivers and lakes [leading to degradation in water quality]

… soil erosion and salt buildup [are further problems from] irrigation.

[there are certain water hungry crops like cotton and sugarcane]

– wired.com

 

4 major reasons for water usage and water waste in agriculture are:

Growing crops or meat production that uses a lot more water than others

Non precision use of irrigation

Not using enough alternatives to irrigation – rainwater harvesting and treated waste water

Not enhancing enough water retention in the soil

– canwefeedtheworld.wordpress.com

 

From news.thomasnet.com:

– Livestock, Fruit & Vegetable Farming

[some foods and crops are far more water intensive to produce than others].

[Basic irrigation technology and lack of water management in irrigation are two water wasters in farming]

– Meat Production

… fruit and vegetable agriculture uses more water than meat production … [a study indicates] ’29 percent of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products.’

One-third of that water is used to raise beef cattle.

 

How We Waste & Lose Water In Industry (& Energy Production)

In industry, water is lost and waste through:

Leaks – [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

Condensate not being recovered

Waste water not being re-used and/or recycled

– fmanet.org

 

news.thomasnet.com has a good resource where they outline water use across different industries in the United States

We summarised that resources in this guide

But, some notes worth outlining that might be relevant to water waste and loss are:

Agriculture and power are responsible for the most direct water withdrawals – about 90%

But, about 60% of water usage is indirect, and about 96 percent of industry sectors use more water indirectly than directly in their supply chains

Food, metals, paper, chemicals, and gasoline and oils (refined petroleum) industrial processes might use the most water in terms of types of products

Notes on some different industries are:

– Power Generation

[Water is used across essentially every stage of energy production]

[Water use for the different energy sources can be measured and compared on a per kilowatt hour of electricity produced basis]

[The thermoelectric-power industry is the most water hungry process in energy production, and electrical power production uses more water than any other single industrial process]

[Cooling processes and cooling systems might use a lot of water]

[There might be water conservation benefits in using salt water over fresh water for cooling in some energy generation processes]

[Natural gas might be up to 14 times more efficient than some types of coal energy, and bioenergy can be water intensive due to needing water to both grow bio material, and convert it into energy]

– Textiles & Garments

The textile industry is one of the biggest creators of wastewater worldwide

– Beverage Industry

Includes sodas, beers, juices and other drinks.

[The] production and bottling processes [aren’t as water intensive as the farming and agriculture required for the sugar, barley, fruits, etc. that go into the beverages]

– Automotive Manufacturing

[it takes a lot of water to produce] the average domestic car, including the tires.

Major water uses in the automotive manufacturing industry include surface treatment and coating, paint spray booths, washing/rinsing/hosing, cooling, air conditioning systems and boilers.

– Foods

[The industrial processes for some foods such as sugar, pet food and milk can use a lot of direct, and indirect water]

 

[the water withdrawal and consumption rates of power generation facilities are worth consideration, as well as the cooling system used, such as a once through cooling system]

– ge.com

 

According to sswm.info:

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

 

telegraph.co.uk outlines:

[how energy generation is a major water user]

[that some types of energy generation like renewables and nuclear might use less water than some fossil fuel power plants]

[that carbon capture and storage used in energy generation might use more water]

 

How We Waste & Lose Water Domestically & In Households (Municipally)

Notes on water waste and loss in the municipal sector from a range of resources …

 

epa.gov reports on water loss and waste in the United States in 2014. The outline things such as:

[Water wasted and lost from leaks, and how much water is lost from leaks in households on average]

[How we lose and waste water from inefficiently and wastefully using appliances and household devices – two examples are not turning the tap off while brushing teeth, and using the dishwasher on only a half load instead of full]

[Having to use more water in arid, dry and hot climates, and on properties with more lawn and garden that need watering]

[How 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]

[How automatic landscape irrigation systems that aren’t maintained properly can waste water]

Stats and data are provided on the above points in the epa.gov resource

 

In 2015 in the US:

About 8 percent of water supplied to Californian homes [was] wasted [which is about 237 billion gallons a year]

The drip of leaky pipes and faucets in homes are the main causes

– TakePart.com (You can view a % breakdown of total water use (including outdoors), and indoor water use in Californian homes in the takepart.com resource)

 

theguardian.com discusses water loss and waste on a global scale in 2015, and provide information on:

46bn litres of drinking water are lost globally every day

[Some of the main causes might be] aging water networks which haven’t been properly managed, metering inaccuracies, theft or unmetered authorised consumption

[Other causes of lost and wasted water might be a lack of active leakage control and pressure management, lack of maintaining stable pressure in pipes within a distribution network, lack of technologies like intelligent water pumps and distributed sensor systems for leak detection, lack of water audit programs, lack of information on major forms of water consumption and water loss encountered in drinking water utilities, lack of a set of rational performance indicators that evaluate utilities on system-specific attributes such as the average pressure in the distribution system and total length of water mains] 

[How the challenges for developing and low income countries in regards to water supply are different to the challenges of developed countries]

[How the burden of managing water loss needs to be shared between utilities, government, corporations and other parties]

 

In the UK in 2018…

[Inadequate infrastructure belonging to major water companies was responsible for a lot of water lost through leakage]

[Some say individuals have some blame for water waste as the average person also wastes water themselves] 

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

– telegraph.co.uk

 

theguardian.com discusses the public water supply system in the UK, in 2017, and shares information on …

20% of all water leaks out before it even reaches homes

[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] 

[One problem with coming up with solutions is that] Large scale mains replacements are disruptive, especially with two-thirds of our network running under the busiest and hardest to reach roads in London.

 

eandt.theiet.org 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]

 

audit.wa.gov.au discusses the public supply water supply in Western Australia in 2014, and provide information on …

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

[Some water loss can’t be completely eliminated, but it’s possible to estimate what the lowest achievable level of loss might be]

[An estimation of recoverable water volume from undetected leakage from pipes]

[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]

 

From ge.com:

Effluent water [is] ‘greywater’ [and] is generated through wastewater municipal treatment plants, treated and discharged.

… over 95% of grey water is simply discharged into surface ponds.

 

How To Prevent Water Wastage & Loss In Agriculture (& Irrigation)

Read more in this guide about how to use water more sustainably and efficiently in agriculture, with solutions on reducing water waste and loss as well.

 

How To Prevent Water Wastage & Loss In Industry (& Energy Generation)

Read more in this guide about how to use water more sustainably and efficiently in industry, with solutions on reducing water waste and loss as well.

 

How To Prevent Water Wastage & Loss Domestically & In Households

Read more in this guide about how to use water more sustainably and efficiently for municipal use, with solutions on reducing water loss and waste as well.

 

Sources

1. https://www.wired.com/2006/03/farms-waste-much-of-worlds-water/

2. https://www.greensutra.in/news/common-causes-water-wastage/

3. https://www.epa.gov/watersense/statistics-and-facts

4. http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/05/05/huge-amount-water-california-wasting-every-year

5. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/02/water-loss-eight-things-you-need-to-know-about-an-invisible-global-problem

6. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/11/water-companies-losing-vast-amounts-through-leakage-raising-drought-fears

7. https://audit.wa.gov.au/reports-and-publications/reports/water-corporation-management-of-water-pipes/water-loss-undetected-leakage-considered-pipe-replacement-decisions/

8. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/22/water-firms-told-leak-less-officials-warn-widespread-drought/

9. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/30/water-companies-criticised-amount-lost-from-leaks-rises-for-second-year

10. https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2017/12/water-leakage-from-uk-pipes-rises-to-over-three-billion-litres-a-day/

11. http://www.worldwatch.org/combat-scarcity-increase-water-use-efficiency-agriculture-0

12. http://www.eniscuola.net/en/argomento/water-knowledge/uses/water-waste-in-agriculture/

13. https://www.wired.com/2006/03/farms-waste-much-of-worlds-water/

14. http://www.oecd.org/tad/sustainable-agriculture/5_background_note.pdf

15. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40494254

16. https://canwefeedtheworld.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/four-ways-to-reduce-water-use-in-agriculture/

17. https://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Inhabit/2017/0303/America-s-biggest-water-users-farmers-learn-to-use-less-of-it

18. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/danielle-nierenberg/7-strategies-for-reducing_b_2886646.html

19. https://cuesa.org/article/10-ways-farmers-are-saving-water

20. https://greentumble.com/ways-to-reduce-water-consumption-on-farms/

21. http://water.jhu.edu/index.php/magazine/agriculturemeeting-the-water-challenge

22. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/wuin.html

23. https://news.thomasnet.com/imt/2012/04/10/down-the-drain-industry-water-use

24. https://www.fmanet.org/blog/2012/05/24/water-reuse-recycling-conservation-manufacturing

25. http://www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org/CII-tips.aspx

26. http://locker.com.au/how-are-industries-reducing-their-water-consumption/

27. https://www.ge.com/reports/global-thirst-water-use-industry/

28. https://sswm.info/water-nutrient-cycle/water-use/hardwares/optimisation-water-use-industries/wastewater-reuse-in-industry

29. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-we-might-use-water-more-efficiently-sustainably-in-agriculture-irrigation-potential-solutions-options/

30. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-we-might-use-water-more-efficiently-sustainably-in-industrial-commercial-sectors-potential-solutions-options/

31. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-we-might-use-water-more-efficiently-sustainably-domestically-on-the-household-level-potential-solutions-options/

32. https://www.thomasnet.com/insights/which-industries-use-the-most-water/

Leave a Comment