Why Idahoans Use More Water At Home Than Anyone Else In The Country

Nov 18, 2014

Idahoans are using more water per capita than residents of any other state according to a recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS does a detailed look at water use every fifth year.

Molly Maupin led the team that calculated the nation’s water use for 2010. It took them four years to compile all the data. They looked at all the different ways people were using water, from morning showers to cooling nuclear power plants.

Idahoans use more water than residents in every other U.S. state.
Credit Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr Creative Commons

“That includes domestic, industrial, agricultural, mining, livestock, aquaculture,” Maupin explains.

Maupin is based in Boise and she studies water use around the country.

“When I fly into Phoenix I’m always amazed when I look down and I see all the pools in the back yards and you’re in the desert,” she says. “But still, if you look at Arizona’s per-capita water use, it’s lower than Idaho’s.”

Maupin says Idaho used more water per person than any other state - 168 gallons a day per person in 2010. That’s just at-home personal consumption. Utah was a close second, and other western states also ranked high.

“Western states that have predominately rural and arid, dry climates will tend to use more water because we use that water to irrigate our yards and our gardens as well as our indoor water use,” she says.

In 2005, Idaho ranked second to Nevada for per capita water use followed by Utah. Maupin says Nevada dropped a few places in 2010 because of water conservation efforts taken in Las Vegas.

Top 3 Water Users In 2010

  1. Idaho
  2. Utah
  3. Arizona

Maupin says she can’t be sure why Idahoans use more water, but there are some things that contribute.

“Part of it is the way people perceive their resources,” she says.

Maupin says not all Idaho cities use water meters including most rural towns. That means many Idahoans pay a base rate no matter how much water they use. And others don’t pay anyone for their water.

“We have a rural state and if they are pumping their water for their home and their gardens from a well, and if they don’t have any issues with that well, and power is cheap, then people may not be thinking about how they use water,” she says.

Despite southern Idaho’s dry climate people can have a sense that water is plentiful. That’s in part because the Snake River has turned this dry area into a major agriculture producer.

If you plugged agriculture into the per capita water use, Maupin says, each Idahoan would come out using more than 10,000 gallons a day. Despite Idaho’s small population, agriculture makes it one of the biggest total water users in the country.

“Over at least the last 10 years, we are in the top five states for overall water use,” Maupin says. “However, irrigated agriculture is the vast majority of our water use in the state. We are currently number three for irrigation.”

Idaho farmers may not be using water as well as other states. Some states with more irrigated land than Idaho use less water for irrigation. Maupin points to Nebraska as an example. She says farmers there have to pump more water out of the ground. That's more expensive than pumping surface water, so they use less.

But Maupin says Idaho farmers did get better at using water wisely between 2005 and 2010.

“Our irrigated lands stayed pretty steady,” she says. “We also saw a decline of about 10 percent in our withdrawals. We’re seeing a shift away from flood irrigation and toward sprinkler irrigation. So I think the story you can pick from that is that farmers still have a good supply but they’re using their water more sensibly and more efficiently.”

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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