Water Use in United States Industry
- Water is critical to many industrial processes including processing, washing, diluting, cooling, or transporting a product; or incorporating water into a product. Iron and steel are by far the largest water users in the U.S. followed by petroleum refining, textiles, and pulp and paper which have a much lower total water use. The most important industrial sector however is thermoelectric power production.
- Thermoelectric power production requires water for generating electricity with steam-driven turbine generators - commonly powered by coal. The cheapest and easiest method is to withdraw water from a nearby body of surface water, pass it through the plant and return the heated water to the same body of water. In the US in 2000, thermoelectric-power withdrawals accounted for 48 percent of total water use, and 52 percent of fresh surface-water withdrawals (USGS). Thermoelectric water withdrawals have stabilized since the 1980s, even though population has increased (2).
- Some cities will price large volumes of water cheaply in order to attract industry and support their local economy, particularly around the Great Lakes.
A percentage of industrial water withdrawals are returned to the environment. However, the water is not likely to be returned in the same place, nor the same condition as it was when extracted.