Earth Island Institute logo, tap or click to visit the Institute home page

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News > Post and Comments

Latest News

Every Drop Matters: Reducing Water Use in the United States

A single American can use as much water in a day as approximately 900 Kenyans

A World Water Day Special

The United States is one of the world’s biggest users of water. A single American can use as much water in a day as approximately 900 Kenyans. As a result, water resources in the US are shrinking. In the last five years, there have been water shortages in almost every part of the country, including the worst drought in at least 25 years, which hit 80 percent of the country’s farmland in 2012. Even worse, at least 36 states currently are expecting local, regional, or statewide water shortages, even without drought.

tap water leaking Photo by wajakemek|rashdanothman/FlickrAt least 36 US states currently are expecting local, regional, or statewide
water shortages.

The Natural Resources Defense Council expects water scarcity to affect the American South, West, and Midwest the most. Fourteen states in these regions already have “extreme” or “high” risk of water scarcity. Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Nevada, and Texas face the most danger because they are expected to see some of the largest increases in population by 2030. Water scarcity is about more than lack of water, it’s about lack of drinkable water. It is estimated that as many as 53.6 million Americans have contaminated tap water.

As consumers we can profoundly reduce water waste and consumption through the food choices we make. Recent research from the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition shows that a healthful and environmentally sustainable diet can go hand in hand.

Here are five steps to save water in the United States:

Eating a little less meat. Switching from a meat-centered weekly menu to a diet rich in vegetables and grains could save 2,500 liters of water a day! And eating grass-fed and locally-raised meat, eggs, and dairy products can also save water.

Steam veggies instead of boiling. In general, steaming vegetables uses less water than boiling, and, according to a study in the Journal of Food Quality, it’s more nutritious. For example, boiling corn on the cob in a large pot may use 6-8 quarts of water, whereas steaming only uses 1-2 quarts. If you must boil, save the water for your garden, soup stock, or use it to clean pots.

Provide support for small-scale, family farms. Agricultural subsidies in the US disproportionately support large-scale agribusinesses over the small-scale producers who are more likely to be engaged in sustainable food production, and may be challenged by drought or commodity price fluctuations. Changes in government support services could reduce this deficit and improve food and water security.

Streamline water use in home gardens. During the summer months nearly 40 percent of household water is used for watering lawns and gardens, the EPA reports. National Geographic suggests incorporating native plants into your garden that are adapted to the local climate and often require less water. Manually watering plants, instead of using automatic sprinklers, cuts water use by 33 percent, according to the EPA. Consumers can also buy self-watering planters, or construct rain barrels that can save you up to 1,300 gallons of water.

Reduce food waste. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that nearly one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted throughout production, storage, transportation, consumption and disposal. Learn about the shelf life of the foods you buy and find out how long you can store food in your freezer. Other ways to reduce food waste are only buying what you plan to eat, using leftovers to create new meals, or donating food you can’t use to soup kitchens.

It’s more important than ever that this World Water Day Americans find ways to save every drop.

Danielle Nierenberg
Danielle Nierenberg is co-founder of Food Tank. She is an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. She recently spent two years traveling to more than 35 countries across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia looking at environmentally sustainable ways of alleviating hunger and poverty. Her knowledge of global agriculture issues has been cited widely in more than 3,000 major publications including The New York Times, USA Today, the International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, BBC, The Guardian(UK), the Mail and Guardian (South Africa), the East African (Kenya), TIME magazine, Reuters, Agence France Presse, Voice of America, the Times of India, and other major publications. Danielle worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic.

Email this post to a friend.

Write to the editor about this post.

Subscribe Today
cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJFour issues of the award-winning
Earth Island Journal for only $10



You left off an easy water saving practice that has been in use for many years. Follow this advice. In the bowl, Yellow is mellow. When it’s brown flush it down. Or another way of saying it, In the land of fun and sun, we don’t flush for number one.
Toilet flushing can be one of the largest uses of water in the home. this can cut the amount of water used to flush waste in half easily.

By Vincent Alvarez on Mon, March 25, 2013 at 8:11 am

1. turn the water off while you’re brushing your teeth.
2. turn the water off while you’re soaping up dishes.
3. put a large bucket in the shower to catch the 1st morning cold water. fill it. use that for the first morning toilet flush.
4. turn off the water while you’re shaving your legs.

By amy on Fri, March 22, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Leave a comment

Comments Policy

Remember my personal information?

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

View Posts by Date View Posts by Author


Four issues for just
$15 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!