Water is used in a variety of ways. We all need clean drinking water. A human can go weeks without food, but only days without water. Drinking water accounts for less than 1 percent of total water usage, but it’s one of the most important of all the uses. Clean water contributes to good health; contaminated water can cause disease and even death. In order to be clean enough for human consumption, water usually has to be "treated" in some way.
We also need water that works for us, doing the dirty household jobs like laundry and cleaning and for growing gardens and keeping lawns green. Approximately 70 percent of the total household water usage is used inside the house, and of that amount 60 percent is used just in the bathroom.
Beyond household chores are the heavy duty jobs in industry. Water is used in many industries. Agriculture is the second largest user of water in the U.S. water withdrawal. Farmers irrigate about 15 percent of America's farmlands to grow food and fibers. Just like crops, livestock need water, but this use accounts for a much smaller piece of the water withdrawal pie.
Power plants and steel mills use large volumes of water as coolant for their equipment. Water is the driving force in hydroelectric generation, which accounts for about 47 percent of all water use. Beyond its use in the production of goods, water is often used to transport those goods to market. Waterways are integral to national and worldwide shipping. Major and minor rivers are an important part of the transportation system, which allows people and goods to move quickly and efficiently around the country. The Ohio, the Hudson, the Missouri, and the Mississippi Rivers are some of our country’s hardest working rivers and they all play an important role in commercial navigation.
One of water’s most popular uses is for recreation. Whether it’s swimming, water skiing, fishing, the water’s got to be clean. The recreation and tourism industry represents a large percentage of employment in the United States, and a big chunk of recreational spending comes from water-related activities.
Another use for water is habitat for wildlife. Water plays a major role in the life of any living thing. Plants, invertebrates, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals all depend on water. It is basic for survival. Many living things also need it as habitat for part or all of their lifecycle. Rivers, lakes, and oceans support entire diverse and fragile ecosystems. Ecosystems that can be shattered by even the smallest changes in water quality.
A whole range of practices, the individual actions we take and decisions we make affect water quality. One person’s decision to properly dispose of paint keeps that paint out of a stream. One developer’s decision to control erosion keeps sediment out of a river. Multiply those individual decisions across an entire community, and you can see the impact proper practices can have.