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How We Use Water

Water is Essential to Life

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Water is our most precious resource. Water is vital to life. Humans, plants, and animals are made up of mostly water. All living things would die if it weren't for water. We use water for drinking, washing, cleaning, cooking, and growing our food as well as many, many other things. The average American uses around 150-250 gallons of water daily. Even more water is used by industries to generate electricity, manufacture things, and transport people and goods.

Common household uses consume a lot of water. It may take between 30 and 40 gallons for one bath. The average toilet uses about 5 gallons of water per flush. It takes 20-40 gallons of water for one shower. Washing machines use an average of 25 gallons per load. The kitchen sink takes roughly 20 gallons per day for preparing food and washing dishes. The bathroom sink, used for washing hands, shaving and brushing teeth, requires about 15 gallons per day. These numbers are estimated for the average household in America.

Much of our fresh water is also used outdoors for watering lawns, flower beds, and vegetable gardens, as well as washing cars and filling swimming pools. We must be careful not to pollute the water that we use outside. Many people use chemicals on their lawns and gardens and then water them with pure water. The water will wash the chemicals off of your plants and then run down a storm drain and go straight to the rivers and streams where fish make their homes. This kind of polluted water can kill fish and wildlife. We should always be mindful of whether or not we are polluting the water around us. We need to take care of our water, not abuse it. Every town and city, whether small or big, uses water. Cities use water for fire fighting, street cleaning, and watering public areas such as parks, grass, trees, shrubs, and flowers. Water is also used to fill public drinking fountains, including those at schools and libraries. All of the different businesses in your community also use water. Think about all the water that is used by restaurants, hospitals, laundries, dry cleaners, golf courses, hotels, car washes, beauty shops, barber shops, gas stations, and health clubs as well as all of the other businesses in town. These all add up to quite a big demand on Washington's water supply. We need to try to think about how many people need to use water and conserve our water so that there is enough to go around.

The amount of water needed to run a farm is tremendous. When we think of water on a farm, we think of watering crops; but the amount of water needed on a dairy farm is a huge amount also. Chickens, pigs, sheep, and all the other animals in a farmyard need drinking water to stay alive. Food must be grown for them to eat, and water is also required in the cooling systems used to keep production meat fresh. Vegetable and grain crops also require water. Water is used in spreading fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, which produce a greater crop yield, but can also contaminate the water. Most of the water used on farms is used for irrigation. Studies show that by using drip irrigation, farmers can conserve up to 60% of the water that it would normally take to irrigate their crops using other systems of irrigation.

It takes about 26 gallons of water to produce one ear of corn while it takes about 2000-2500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. Around 120 gallons of water is required to produce one egg. About 300 gallons of water is needed to produce one loaf of bread, and it takes about 12,000 gallons of water to grow a bushel of wheat. Believe it or not, about 1,400 gallons of water are used during the final production of one fast-food meal including a burger, fries, and a soft drink.

Hydroelectric plants are the largest users of water.

Hydroelectric plants capture the kinetic energy of falling water to make electricity. They do this with a dam. The dam forces the water level to go up so that the water will have more power when falling. The force of the falling water pressing against the turbines' blades cause them to spin. The spinning turbines transmit the kinetic energy of the falling water togenerators. The generators spin when the turbines spin generating electricity that will be transmitted on the power lines to homes and businesses.

Of all the electricity in the world, about 20% is generated by hydropower. About 10% of all the electricity in the United States is provided by hydropower. Hydropower generating prevents a lot of pollution. Hydropower generating is clean and does not leave any waste. Because of the electricity generated by hydropower, the amount of oil and coal needed to produce enough electricity is reduced. It prevents the need to burn about 22 billion gallons of oil or 120 million tons of coal each year. The amount of electricity that a hydroelectric plant produces depends on two things: how far the water falls and the quantity of water falling. The higher the dam, the further the water falls and the more electric power produced. If the water falls twice as far, there will be twice as much electricity generated. The quantity of water that falls also affects the amount of power produced. The more water that flows through theturbines making them spin, the more electric power produced.

Water is also essential in industry. It is heated and the steam is used to run machinery. Water is used to cool hot metal such as in the production of steel.

Water is also used to cool the air. It is an important element in many products like chemicals, drugs, lotions, shampoos, cosmetics, cleaners, and also beverages. Water is used in processing food and in innumerable factories and industrial processes including the manufacturing of paper. Water used in processing foods and beverages must be absolutely clean, while other industries such as a manufacturing plant may use a lower quality of water. "In the early 1900s, American industry used about 10 to 15 billion gallons of water a day. With the huge growth in industry following World War II, the industrial use of water also grew. By 1980, industry was using about 150-200 billion gallons each day." - Water: A Resource in Crisis by Eileen Lucas

Recreation is another way that we use and enjoy Washington state's water. Many people enjoy fishing, boating, sailing, canoeing, rafting, and swimming, as well as many other recreational activities that depend on water. Most of us enjoy at least one of these activities and would be disappointed if we could never do any of them again. If our water is continually polluted though, then it could become dangerous to go swimming and all of the fish could die so that no one could go fishing either. No one would enjoy boating, sailing, canoeing, or rafting in polluted water either. We need to remember that it is important to guard our waters from becoming polluted.

Transportation is yet another way that we use water. Many people use boats and ferries to commute to and from work every day. People also enjoy going on cruise ships or just going sailing. Water transportation has been a channel for growth in America, but that growth has not come without cost. The destruction caused by shipping includes fuel spills, which coat the water with oil and coal dust, and erosion of the shoreline which causes damage to the fish and other inhabitants of the water.

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