Managing urban demand

Urban water use is the second largest consumer of water behind agriculture.* Eighty-one percent of our population now lives in cities and towns, and although per capita water use  in the U.S. has decreased during recent years in most parts of the country, it is still higher than in other countries.  Approximately three quarters of the water used in urban areas is for residential customers.

Numerous options exist to reduce urban water demand. On the residential side, these options include engineering approaches to minimize treated water needed in the home (e.g., devices to reduce water needed to flush toilets, take showers, and overall household use as well as utilization of grey water systems), landscaping choices, and behavioral changes.  Most consumers are completely unaware of how much water they typically waste, and where the water is actually being used, and thus consumer education is important.  Where new residential development is being proposed, opportunities to limit water use, incorporate efficiency measures, and even invest in projects that return more water to rivers should all be considered. Replacing aging pipes may also help reduce urban demand.

For industrial consumers, approaches to manage demand include similar efforts to improve water efficiency for operations within facilities (greater efficiency, more recycling and reuse) as well as landscaping choices exterior to facilities. Please also see best practices related to addressing corporate demand and engagement on this website.

Of course, reducing urban demand doesn’t necessarily mean more water in our rivers. It can be part of a more comprehensive approach to manage water more sustainably across all users. See also the best practices related to farm and ranch practices on this website for an example of how water can be shared more effectively between users.

To start learning about how to manage urban demand in your city or town, visit your local water utility and find out what they are doing to encourage their customers to conserve water. Find out about efforts underway to reduce urban demand where you live or consider partnering to start a program yourself. Some utilities and wastewater districts are also investing in watershed restoration efforts directly and could provide another way forward.

*Consumption is different from withdrawal. In the United States, energy is the largest water withdrawer, followed by agriculture, and then urban consumers. However, much of the water withdrawn for energy is returned to the river or other water source, though not always in the same condition. See best practices associated with Tackling Water Needs for Energy Production to learn more.

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