- Self-supplied industrial water use has declined almost 43% since 1985, according to data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Self-supplied water is defined as water "withdrawn from a surface or groundwater source by a user rather than being obtained from a public supply," according to the USGS. Industry also gets water from the public supply, which has similarly seen a downward trend in withdrawals over the last decade.
- Industrial water use peaked in 1970 at 47 billion gallons per day, and came down to just under 15 billion gallons per day in 2015, according to 2015 water data released last year, the most recent available. The USGS says its industrial measurements can only be directly compared for the years 1985 through 2015 because prior to this, the category included industries like mining and aquaculture.
- The USGS pointed to regulations and a declining U.S. manufacturing sector for these decreases in a report accompanying the most recent water use data.
"Declines in self-supplied industrial water withdrawals between 1985 and 2015 can likely be linked to a number of changes in factors in the United States economy, including technology, trade with foreign markets, operating costs, and a decline in manufacturing output," USGS notes in its report.
However, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests manufacturing output has been trending upward throughout this time, recovering recently to its pre-recession levels.
The USGS suggests another variable could be in play: more efficient industrial processes. A focus on industrial water recycling and reuse is the result of environmental regulations and limited fresh water in some area, the agency suggests.
"The [Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] EnergyStar program, begun in 1992, provides information and suggestions on reducing water and energy use to industries," USGS said.
But even these regulations might not be the only factors at play, according to the EPA.
"The downward trend of industrial water usage that began in the early 1980’s is unlikely the result of specific EPA regulations and more likely due to several other factors including rising energy costs, the cost to treat wastewater, and water availability," the EPA said in a statement emailed to Supply Chain Dive.
As for the reductions in the public supply, USGS points to the National Energy Policy Act of 1992, which created efficiency standards for toilets, faucets and shower heads, and other federal programs like the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense effort, which sought to label many goods considered water efficient.
Industrial facilities are turning to more efficient machinery and equipment in order to "reduce costs associated with water/energy production needs," according to USGS.
These are efforts highlighted by some of the nation's largest manufacturers in their sustainability reports.
Some, like General Motors (GM), are even reporting water withdrawals annually in sustainability reports and in reports to CDP.
"Company goals were set to continuously improve and reduce intensity from 2010 to 2020 by 15 percent. Water is integrated into our business plan, and each facility has a target for year-over-year improvement," GM said in its most recent sustainability report.
Installing more efficient equipment is just one way in which companies are looking to reduce their water withdrawal numbers. Some are also looking at recycling rainwater for some operations. ExxonMobile is taking this approach, stating in its 2016 sustainability report that it was building a "a large reservoir to capture and store excess water available in the wet season" at one of its Indonesian facilities.
Ford, meanwhile, has reduced its water use by implementing manufacturing changes like dry machining and going from a three-stage to a two-stage painting process, according to the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International. As a result, Ford was able to reduce its water use in the U.S. by 71% and by 62% globally between 2000 and 2012.
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