Water consumption is simply the use of water in any form for any reason. While most people tend to think of water consumption as nothing more than drinking, water is consumed in a variety of ways, with human consumption only making up a small fraction of the use. It is used in irrigation, cleaning, cooking, and even as a coolant, in some cases.
The average household in the United States uses 100,000 gallons of water each year, but that pales in comparison to other uses. Worldwide, irrigation makes up the largest use of water, accounting for more than 85 percent of all water consumption. Generally speaking, water is considered consumed when it is not available for any other use.
Understanding how water is consumed is very important, as many geographic locations in the world routinely experience a water shortage or water distribution problem. In fact 1.1 billion individuals in developing countries have no access to clean water, and more than twice that many do not have access to adequate sanitation. Thus, many have come to see the issue of water consumption not only as a conservation issue, but also as a human rights issue.
Given the fact that water is so important, finding ways to reduce water consumption is often a priority for governments. In the United States, for example, many states or local governments place restrictions on certain water uses, such as lawn watering. The laws are typically designed to ensure that over-watering is not taking place, and that watering is done at the proper time of day. This helps reduce waste and loss due to evaporation and other issues.
Many countries also place an emphasis on conservation efforts and have laws regarding pollution. Pollutants can make water unsafe both for drinking and for organisms that live in the water, which may also be part of the larger food chain. Therefore, pollution can also be considered a type of water consumption because it makes the water unusable. The most common pollutants include human and animal waste, fertilizer runoff, and runoff from urbanized areas. In addition, industrial areas may discharge tons of heavy metals and other chemical waste into water systems that are hazardous to animals.
Water consumption may not only be an issue within a country, it can also be an issue between countries. For example, a country that dams a river can affect the flow to countries who depend on that same river downstream. A recent example of this taking place happened in the fall of 2009, when Iraq pressured Turkey to release more water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which begin in Turkey and flow through Iraq.
While the term water consumption may indicate the water ceases to exist, it does not. It simply changes form and locations. Water is constantly recycled through a process known as the water cycle, and the amount of water on Earth has remained virtually unchanged since its creation. Whether that water is in a usable form is the main concern.