The World Resources Institute (WRI) has analysed new data from its Aqueduct platform, showing that the domestic water demand rose 600% between 1960 and 2014, while water withdrawals by other sectors increased at a slower rate.
Agriculture and industry are the largest water users, with 70% and 19% of the total water use, respectively. Agriculture has been the major freshwater user globally since the 1960s, albeit its growth rate has not been as fast as that of other sectors. Although agricultural water demand increased by over 100% in the last century, the industrial water demand increased by more than threefold, mainly due to a higher demand for electricity, fuel, and other products which are water-intensive, such as textiles.
During that time period, the global population increased by over 4 billion people. Such an increase has contributed to the 600% growth in domestic water use, to provide water to more people, more households, and ever-expanding cities. Populations and economies will continue to grow, and we must find a way to enable socio-economic growth without intensifying water stress.
How can domestic water demand be reduced, despite population growth? It is not only households who should be responsible for reducing their water use: it will require an effort from companies and governments as well. The WRI proposes some measures to reduce domestic water use: innovation, regulations, education and rethinking our personal water footprint.
Innovation involves redesigning products that consume water in the household, such as water-efficient bathroom fixtures or high-performance dishwasher tablets. Regulations provide an incentive to innovation, for example by requiring appliances to be water-wise. Currently, washing your dishes by hand usually consumes more water than using a modern dishwasher. The Ecolabel in the EU and WaterSense in the US have been used to promote efficiency standards.
But changing consumer’s behaviour takes more than having new water-efficient products available. Both the private and the public sector can work to educate users to lower their water consumption. In many countries outdoor water use is a large portion of domestic water use (e.g. in the US about 30% of household water use goes to watering lawns, a per cent that goes up to 60% in arid regions). In this regard, education efforts to encourage landscaping with native plants adapted to local conditions can help homeowners cut down on water use.
Last, but not least, is the role of individual consumers. And our habits involve not only our water consumption directly from the tap, that is, our domestic water demand per se. Beyond that, most of our water footprint comes from the food we eat and other products and services we consume, so it is linked to the agriculture and industrial water demand as well. For example, the energy we consume comes for the most part from thermal power plants, which use water for cooling, so conserving energy we conserve water and reduce our overall water footprint.