The Water Budget of the Conterminous United States

Material Information

The Water Budget of the Conterminous United States
Alternate Title:
Some Facts from the 1978 Report of U. S. Water Resources Council on The Water Budget of the Conterminous United States. National Forum. Winter 1989
Physical Description:


Subjects / Keywords:
Irrigation water ( jstor )
Water resources ( jstor )
Water usage ( jstor )
Spatial Coverage:
North America -- United States of America -- Florida


General Note:
Box 5, Folder 22 ( SF - SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS ), Item 11
Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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\ W Western Law

.[ ~centage of) water is actually applied to the
intended use and not wasted. A major
source of new water is the conservation of
SOME FACTS FROM THE 1978 REPORT OF U. S. water in existing uses. Waste occurs in in-
WATER RESOURCES COUNCIL dustry and in municipal systems, but mis-
use of water by irrigators holds special sig-
on nificance because so much water in the
(all figures are averages in billion gallons per day, bgd)* provd in som aras oeuoed an ine-
ficient irrigation practices continue to re-
Water carried across U.S. in the atmosphere 40,000 bgd suit in massive waste of water in most
About 10% falls as precipitation (this amounts to an average regions of the West. The United States Soil
annual rainfall of 30 inches) 4,200 bgd Conservation Service estimates that total
annual water waste resulting from irriga-
Two-thirds of precipitation evaporates immediately (in a tion amounts to 24 million acre-ft (30 billion
day or so) and is not available for use 2,750 bgd m3) per year. If this estimate is substan-
One-third accumulates as ground water or surface water storage tially accurate, each year irrigators cause
(this is the only part that can be developed for beneficial use) 1,450 bgd an irrecoverable loss of water that is almost
double the annual flow of the Colorado
With existing facilities and because of variations during seasons double that exceeds te thl olmordo
(droughts and floods), less than half the potential can be River and that exceeds the toal e
available in most years 675 bgd water consumed by all municipalities and
675 bgd industries in the nation.
Using 1975 data to illustrate, withdrawal from ground water and Developing an effective program to com-
surface water sources totaled less than 60% of the potential bat waste of irrigation water is no simple
(85% from fresh water and 15% from saline sources) 398 bgd task. Irrigation interests dominate water
Water withdrawn for municipal use in 1975 was 21 bgd politics in both the state capitals and in
Washington, D.C. In addition, identifying
Withdrawal for commercial and manufacturing totaled 57 bgd true waste is not always easy. Water from
Irrigation withdrawals in 1975 were 159 bgd leaky ditches or from an overwatered field
may reenter the stream as return flow and
In 1975, the water "consumed", i.e. evaporated and not be available to downstream users. No one
returned to the water system for possible reuse, was 107 bgd wants to declare war on the western
Water consumed by municipal use was 24% of withdrawals, rancher or farmer. It is unacceptable to
equaling 5 bgd force an end to farming and ranching op-
Water consumed in commercial and manufacturing enterprises erations and to the local traditions and
was 13% of withdrawals and was 7 bgd open space they contribute to the Ameri-
can West. Nevertheless, good conserva-
Irrigation is the largest user of water in the U.S. with fifty-four tion practices can, over time, be adopted
percent of withdrawals consumed. Also, of the total water for western irrigation. The public should
consumed nationwide in 1975, over 80% was in agricultural support tax incentives, low-interest loans,
operations. Irrigation consumption was 86 bgd and other programs to provide incentives
for farmers to achieve these ends.
*U. S. Water Resources Council, 1978. The Nation's Water Resources 1975-2000, Volume 1, But incentive programs must be accom-
Summary, Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D.C. panied by the sharp edge of compulsion.
First, pricing policy should be used to
phase out subsidies for water users and to
force conservation by delivering water at
production, projects, disputes involving Indian water its actual, higher cost. The message of re-
But, whatever the specifics and what- rights, and environmental controversies, form-minded resource economists should
ever the positions of the current adminis- Such a statement does not negate the fact be heeded: the incentive to save water will
tration, people in this field act at their own that techniques other than conservation of be diminished so long as water can be ob-
peril if they fail to recognize the probability water will doubtless be employed to dis- tained at an artificially low cost. Several
of an expanded federal role-not in the his- tribute water to new uses in an efficient western states have begun to take action
toric arena of funding development manner. Various devices will be employed against waste.
projects, but in the sphere of adopting sub- to free up the transfer of water by reducing Environmental concerns. Modern values
stantive requirements to meet pressing the costs and legal barriers to leases and have led to the alteration of water law in
contemporary needs. A set of complex sales. Some interbasin transfers will occur, another context, outside of the waste is-
challenges must be resolved and the states although not grandiose schemes that are sues. Traditionally, water could be used
alone cannot hope to tackle all aspects of neither cost-effective nor politically or en- only for beneficial purposes, which were
them. vironmentally acceptable. The primary defined as domestic purposes and commer-
Conservation. A second development is method for dealing with the critical issue of cial ones such as agriculture, industry,
likely to be the most important substantive creating new water supplies will be to con- mining, power generation, and stock rais-
movement in both state and federal policy serve water from existing supplies. ing. Usually water had to be physically di-
in the foreseeable future. It is conservation True conservation is not the old scheme verted from the stream in order to effect a
of water, the essential policy element in of developing new projects to capture wa- valid appropriation.
seeing that enough water is available for ter, but is a much broader concept requir- Most western legislatures, however,
both old and new uses. Conservation will ing users to employ waste-saving practices have announced that water used for recre-
influence or determine most proposed designed to ensure that all (or a great per- ation and wildlife is also beneficial. Many