Water is an incredibly vital resource to the survival of humans, animals, and plants. Though it may be one of the most abundant substances on Earth, water never truly takes breaks in its status as a limited natural resource.
Most human activity requires some level of water use, but certain activities require more water for their completion than others. The following list is an approximation of the most water-intensive human activity by industry, listed in order from greatest to least.
What are the top five activities?
Water is used throughout every phase of construction, including excavation for foundations and materials, mixing concrete and asphalt, domestic use in residences under construction, and upkeep of landscapes. Construction of residential homes alone uses on average 300 gallons of water per day.
Oil and Gas Extraction (15%)
Water is used to extract oil from the ground, helping to bring it to the surface where it can be refined or transported. Water is also used in the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction.
Water is used in the production of electricity, chemicals, steel and aluminum, glass, paper products, and food. Of all industries that use water for their processes, energy production is most reliant on water use.
Growing crops to feed livestock accounts for over half of freshwater withdrawals, and much of this water is used to irrigate crops as rainfall becomes less reliable in certain areas. Water is also withdrawn from freshwater sources for livestock drinking, washing, and processing.
In total, 70% of water withdrawal worldwide goes towards irrigation or domestic use.
Is human activity of consuming water different by country?
A new paper by researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research shows that human activity is consuming water in different countries very unevenly.
It has been estimated that almost half of global annual river runoff goes through the seven largest Asian rivers. These rivers flow into the Aral, China, India, Japan, and South-East Asia Seas.
The study shows that in some of these basins the human influence is extremely pronounced; for example in the Ganges for Bangladesh or in the Indus in Pakistan. This is in striking contrast, the scientists say, to the situation in North America and Europe.
According to a study conducted by Isabella Marques from the University of Exeter, data showed that countries with large amounts of water resources available tend to have relatively small blue footprints per capita, but that they also exhibit high levels of indirect consumption through green and grey water contributions. This might be explained by their high reliance on agriculture and the fact that water scarcity and droughts are the main limiting factors in these countries.
On the other hand, we found that countries with a scarcity of water resources tend to be net importers of food and thus have higher blue footprints per capita. We also observed high grey footprints per capita in these countries, which could be explained by their reliance on imports such as industrial products originating from water abundant countries.
These results seem to suggest that human consumption is tightly connected to water availability and that it may thus influence governments’ decisions on food security policies and international trade.
For example, southern European countries where space for agricultural development is limited due to scarce water resources can buy food from abroad (imports) or pay farmers not to use agricultural land (e.g., through national rural development programmes). This may be particularly relevant in light of the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa, since it will be necessary to promote trade agreements that seek to facilitate sustainable food security while preserving scarce water resources.
There are many human activities that use the most water worldwide. While irrigation may be the main human activity, there are different needs that every country addresses when it comes to their own water consumption.
According to a study done by scientists from Stockholm University and Linköping University in Sweden, they found that recreational activities were the main cause behind the increasing amount of freshwater being used around the world. The researchers found that since 1980, about 4,500 cubic kilometers (1,700 cubic miles) per year have been consumed by people every year. Moreover, according to their findings from 2006-2015 about 30% was consumed due to irrigation whereas 15% was consumed due to energy production.
Another study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) compared water consumption among other countries that includes China, United States, India and Pakistan. The researchers found that between 2000 to 2010, global water consumption increased by about 1 percent each year because of increasing demand for food production.
Another study would say a different thing. The common denominator is that irrigation uses the most water worldwide but it is a necessary activity especially for farming and the food needs of the world.