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Water efficiency achievable throughout U.S. without decrease in economic activity — ScienceDaily


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.

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Materials provided by Northern Arizona University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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