Nav: Home

Study finds that water efficiency achievable throughout US without decree

August 26, 2020

A recent study co-authored by two Northern Arizona University researchers showed that targeted efforts to increase water efficiency could save enough water annually to fill Lake Mead. It could happen without significantly compromising economic production, jobs or tax revenue.

The study, published today in Environmental Research Letters, demonstrates that there is no one right answer to increase water efficiency--rather, there are dozens of right answers depending on region, industry and company. Ben Ruddell, the director of the FEWSION Project and director of the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems (SICCS) and Richard Rushforth, an assistant research professor in SICCS, are co-authors on the study. Landon Marston, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, led the study.

"What's unique about this study is that we try to answer the question of how much water conservation can readily and affordably be achieved in each region and industry of the United States by looking at the conservation that has already been achieved by the water conservation leaders in each industry and region," Ruddell said.

The study looked at how much water conservation can readily and affordably be achieved in each region and industry of the United States by looking at what conservation measures were already working and considering how much water is being used in every industry and throughout the country. Then the researchers ran statistics on that information, looking for areas that offer greater efficiency. The method controls for the differences in climate and technologies in different industries and states.

The study demonstrates how water users from farmers to manufacturers to service providers can collectively reduce their water consumption, both in their own processes and upstream throughout their supply chain, to reduce overexploitation of surface water and groundwater resources. It builds on earlier research evaluating potential water savings within the agricultural sector and in cities, applying a novel approach to water savings in the whole economy.

"The scope and detail of our study are unparalleled, and we believe this work will make a significant and timely contribution to the debate on how to conserve water while maintaining, or even increasing, economic activity," Marston said. "We find that some of the most water-stressed areas throughout the U.S. West and South have the greatest potential for water savings, with about half of these water savings obtained by improving water productivity in the production of corn, cotton and alfalfa."

The research argues that streamflow depletion throughout the West can be decreased on average by 6.6 percent to 23.5 percent without significantly reducing economic production or increasing costs. That is the other piece in this problem--that significant water savings can happen without significant harm to the economy. The majority of U.S. industries and regions can make the biggest contributions to water conservation by working with suppliers to reduce water use "upstream" in their supply chain; some large companies are already adopting this supply chain sustainability.

In the Southwest, which has a sizable agricultural industry as well as perennial water scarcity issues, the conversation about conservation has included ways to improve water use efficiency among farmers since the 1980s, but the study found that more improvement is readily achievable. The good news is that improvement is possible.

Although the study did not argue for specific conservation measures and water saving policies, it does offer a number of high-level recommendations. These included partnerships between large manufacturers, retailers and large metropolitan areas that are "downstream" in the water supply chain, which have more money and influence in making changes, and the large water users "upstream" to help organize and fund water conservation.

"This study argues that we can solve a large fraction of the U.S. water supply crisis simply by employing water conservation strategies that are already in routine use by the water productivity leaders in every industry and every region of the U.S.A.," Ruddell said. "We don't need a revolution in laws or technologies, or much more money, to achieve this. In the 21st century, water conservation has the potential to affordably boost and protect our national water supply in a big way, and avoid the need for hundreds of billions of dollars in taxing and spending on new water infrastructure to cope with drought and climate change."

Northern Arizona University

Related Conservation Articles:

Environmental groups moving beyond conservation
Although non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become powerful voices in world environmental politics, little is known of the global picture of this sector.
Hunting for the next generation of conservation stewards
Wildlife ecology students become the professionals responsible for managing the biodiversity of natural systems for species conservation.
Conservation research on lynx
Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (Leibniz-FMP) discovered that selected anti-oxidative enzymes, especially the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD2), may play an important role to maintain the unusual longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes.
New 'umbrella' species would massively improve conservation
The protection of Australia's threatened species could be improved by a factor of seven, if more efficient 'umbrella' species were prioritised for protection, according to University of Queensland research.
Trashed farmland could be a conservation treasure
Low-productivity agricultural land could be transformed into millions of hectares of conservation reserve across the world, according to University of Queensland-led research.
Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
Researchers investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats in Yellowstone National Park.
Applying biodiversity conservation research in practice
One million species are threatened with extinction, many of them already in the coming decades.
Making conservation 'contagious'
New research reveals conservation initiatives often spread like disease, a fact which can help scientists and policymakers design programs more likely to be taken up.
Helping conservation initiatives turn contagious
New research shows that conservation initiatives go viral, which helps scientists and policymakers better design successful programs more likely to be adopted.
Overturning the truth on conservation tillage
Conservation tillage does not lower yield in modern cropping systems.
More Conservation News and Conservation Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.