Industrial Water Use


Brett Schroeder
Part of Water is Life, a class website on water privatization and commodification, produced by students of Geography 378 (International Environmental Problems & Policy) at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, USA, Spring 2004.


Industries that produce metals, wood, paper, chemicals, gasoline, oils, and most other products all use water in some part of their production process. Industry depends on water, much like agriculture and domestic households depend on water. Industrial reliance on water makes it essential to preserve water in every aspect possible and make sure water pollution is kept at minimal levels. This page will focus on understanding what water means to industry, how much is used during production, and the negative effects of industrial water use.
Facts & Figures

    Total industrial water use in the world is about 22%, with high-income countries using 59%, and low-income countries using a minuscule 8%. These figures will rise with industrial production.

    Annual water volume use by industry is increasing at an enormous rate. Annual water volume use will most likely increase from 752 km3/year in 1995 to 1,170 km3/year by the year 2025. All figures are according to the website Water Science For Schools.

    According to the UN World Water Development Report, some 300-500 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other wastes accumulate each year from industry, most of which gets into the freshwater supply. In some developing countries, 70% of industrial wastes are dumped into untreated waters where they pollute the drinking water. Clearly, there are some issues concerning freshwater supplies and industry is a major contributor. See more interesting facts and figures regarding industry and the water supply.

    Major Uses

    Industry is reliant on water for all levels of production. It can be used as a raw material, solvent, coolant, transport agent, and energy source. According to Environment Canada's website, many liters of water are used to produce glass, plastic, along with some fabric components. Fresh water is not just for drinking anymore.

    Car washes are a great example of an industry that uses gallons and gallons of water everyday. People in developed countries use them frequently without really thinking about all of the water being used. It is the Core countries that use the majority of freshwater in industry, and the United States leads the way. It is astounding if one thinks how much water is consumed by industry. It is predicted to represent 24% of the total freshwater withdrawal worldwide by 2025.

    Now that one knows some facts about industrial water use, along with its major uses, it is time to explore some of the concerns regarding freshwater use for industries.


    Concerns and Conservation

    We have learned that water is a necessity for all industrial production. In turn that means water must be protected, conserved, and used in a proper manner. For most industrial purposes, the water used needs to be freshwater, not salt water, because salt can corrode metal.

    Another major concern about water use in industry is that the government does not regulate or enforce the standards put in place to conserve water. Standards are put in place, however they are not closely followed. According to the website CSE: Down to Earth Supplement on Water Use in Industry: "Countries across the world set water consumption standards and targets for industries to achieve, and regularly revise the standards in a bid to control water use. China, for instance, sets water targets for major water consuming industrial sectors. According to a report from the China Water Conservation Agency, the first national quotas for industrial water consumption will push companies to save as much as 6 billion cubic meters of water a year by 2005. Similar water saving targets are fixed across the developed world." To see more concerns facing the water supply in the future see CSE: Down to Earth Supplement on Water use in Industry.

    Countries need governing bodies to control water use and enforce those guidelines strictly. Fresh water is needed for industries to survive, but it is also needed for humans to survive. There needs to be a conservation plan that is followed to help make freshwater accessible to all.


For more information:

Water Science For Schools:

CSE: Down to Earth Supplement on Water Use in Industry:

The UN World Water Development Report:

Photos: images/industry-ndg2.jpg 0702/july02update.html src/supply.htm