What is groundwater used for?

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Map of groundwater withdrawals by U.S. state in 2015. Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Roughly 60 percent of global groundwater use is for irrigation; most of the rest is used in households and industry.1 Groundwater uses vary significantly by country, and partly depend on climate. In some countries with abundant rainfall, such as Indonesia and Thailand, irrigation needs are very low, so household water supply is the main use for groundwater. Globally, over 2 billion people use groundwater as a source of drinking water.1 In some more arid countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, irrigation accounts for 90 percent of groundwater use.1

The U.S. Geological Survey publishes data on water use in the United States every five years. In 2015, the main uses for groundwater in the United States were irrigation (68%) and public supply (18%).2 Although over 13 million households in the United States get their water from private wells,3 this accounts for only 4 percent of all groundwater used in the United States.2 Other minor uses include livestock, aquaculture, mining, and self-supplied industrial use.2


1 Facts About Global Groundwater Usage National Ground Water Association
2 Estimated Use of Water in the United States, 2015 U.S. Geological Survey
3 2015 American Housing Survey U.S. Census Bureau

Learn More:

  • Groundwater Use and Overuse (Website), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    Background information on groundwater use, plus an exercise with questions and answers on the issues surrounding overuse of groundwater.
  • Desalination as a Source of Fresh Water (Webinar), American Geosciences Institute
    Webinar on the use and desalination of salty water, including brackish groundwater, in the United States and further afield.