What if Americans Only Had as Much Water as Families in Africa?

The average family in Africa gets by on only five gallons of water a day, according to this thought-provoking PSA video from, a project of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The average American family (directly) uses 552 gallons of water a day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Clearly, that is an inequality, and it may give U.S. consumers pause when it comes to wasting water. My colleague Jeff Yeager recently wrote about the 10 things he learned while living without running water at home for a spell (hint: hot water is very special).

Here in the Washington, D.C. region, residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, are battling a water shortage thanks to a main problem, in the throes of the summer’s first heat wave in the area.

Although 552 gallons a day sounds like a big figure, it actually pales to our total water footprint, which includes the “embedded” water in the food we eat, the fuel and electricity we use, the clothes we wear, the products we use, and so on (see interactive). Water gets embedded in those things when it is needed to grow the crops we (or our livestock) consume, when it is needed to process industrial materials that go into our products, or when it is shot down fracking wells, to name a few.

In total, each American is responsible for roughly 2,000 gallons of water use each day. So for a family of four, that would be 8,000 gallons a day.

To learn about your own water use, and get tips on ways to reduce it, try our water calculator. Also sign up for Change the Course, our free campaign (with partners!) to help put back water in the embattled Colorado River Basin, the source of water for millions of people. Text ‘River’ to 77177 to join or signup online.




  1. Clifton manneh
    Waterloo IA
    November 19, 2013, 11:57 pm

    My name is clifton Manneh and I’m 19 years of age. I graduated high school in the year of 2013 and I been making videos on poverty and visiting homeless shelters for a while. My family and I have been in poverty for a while but praying and keeping our minds on a narrow path took us out of poverty. It would mean a lot to me if you can watch my videos and help me.

  2. Rick
    August 10, 2013, 10:54 am

    This comment is in response to that of Richard who posted on July 26.

    Try saying what you just said to the average family living in norhern Niger, or Mali, or some other water scarce country. You will be met with stares of incredulity at the very least.

  3. Richard
    July 23, 2013, 1:26 pm

    Water is a renewable resource that falls for free from the skies. Why conserve something that just evaporates if not used?

    • Brian Clark Howard
      July 23, 2013, 4:07 pm

      Hi. Thanks for the question. On a very simple level that is generally true, although the devil is in the details. It is certainly possible to use up more water in a local area than nature replenishes from the sky, and that leaves a host of plants and animals left empty, which can be lethal.

      In other areas, even where there might be enough water coming in, it’s also true that it often takes energy and chemicals to treat and process freshwater, so it makes sense to conserve it.

  4. Lefty
    July 18, 2013, 12:12 pm

    As taxpayers, we’ve worked hard and invested in water management so that we can enjoy a reasonable supply and accessibility to water. The question is marginally relevant. I agree that we should always strive to be conservative with our available water, and recycle/reuse to the maximum practicable extent. Infrastructure development is driven by the motivation of its constituents supported by government. Life isn’t fair or equitable (something I’ve learned over the last 54 years…); deal with it. Take responsibility, take charge, don’t expect the Government or someone else to hand everything to you – invest in hard work, and kindness to others around you.
    Be water smart and you’ll always have it.

  5. Ima Ryma
    July 18, 2013, 3:59 am

    Americans waste water more,
    While other folk get water less.
    We the People expect the pour
    Of clean water plenty – oh yes.
    Prince George’s County – near D.C.
    Is getting a taste of how tiz.
    A pipeline problem there there be.
    Shut off is part of fix it biz.
    An inconvenience for a time,
    That’s hyped up on national news.
    Then back to water wasting crime,
    The way most Americans choose.

    D.C. folks – if water’s without,
    Just huff and puff and use their clout.