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Americans use an incredible amount of water every day. A toilet averages six gallons of water with every flush, and a big load of laundry requires at least 35 gallons of water. Americans directly consume 36 billion gallons of water a day. In addition, water used by industry, utility companies and agriculture (including livestock) brings the total used every year in the United States to 394 billion gallons. At almost 2,000 gallons a day per person, this is the highest per capita consumption in the world. (Canada is second.)

Only about .003 percent of the Earth's water is available for use. The rest is either saltwater, locked up in polar ice caps or located too deep in the ground to retrieve. If the entire world's supply of water were represented by 26 gallons, then our usable supply of fresh water would be one-half teaspoon. Although natural systems can continually recycle this fresh water, the rate at which we use water is a growing concern.

Much of the water we use every day is groundwater that fills the spaces between rocks and soil particles beneath the ground. The biggest source of groundwater is rain and snow that has seeped down into the soil. This trickle-down process takes time, however, as deep groundwater supplies may require hundreds of years to be replenished. In many areas of the United States (and the world), the rate at which groundwater is being used far outpaces the rate at which it can be replenished. Whether our water supplies come from drinking water (as does half the drinking water in the United States) or from lakes, reservoirs or streams, using too much water too fast can cause problems for people and wildlife.

Through dams, reservoirs and wells, people constantly try to increase the availability of fresh water. If everyone made an effort to conserve water by making a few changes in their daily routines, huge amounts of water could be saved. For example, by installing a water-saving shower head, each person could save 5,000 gallons a year.