The Value of Water

Editors Note: In this post, Susan Davis, Executive Director of Improve International, discusses water usage around the world. This post originally appeared on Improve International's blog, to view the original post please click here.

I got this email from Stuart, one of our board members, yesterday:

“For June, R. and I used 2,000 gallons. That is 66.67 gallons a day. There is no way I could carry that amount of water each day to my home. Plus, what is it all used for? I guess shower and flushing are the biggest daily user.  Is there an amount that we should try to strive for?  30 gallons a day, 10, 5?

Then I think about the homeless that have no access to water; all of the drinking fountains in the city are gone.  And the 2,000 gallons costs me $49.69. 2 cents a gallon. And people complain about the cost of their water bills? And people pay $2 for a 12 oz. bottle of water at the curb market?

It is amazing what we take for granted.”

First of all, yes, it is amazing what we take for granted. Secondly, I thought I would share my answers to Stuart’s questions, in case you are curious. I don’t have any information on how Atlanta’s homeless access water; I hope someone is addressing this.

Is there an amount that we should try to strive for? 

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. This link has some tips for water conservation.

If you’re curious about how much water poor people in developing countries use, there’s a blog for that!  In summary, people who have to walk long distances or wait in long lines and carry that heavy water home don’t use nearly as much as people who have taps in or near their homes. People use more water after an improved water supply is provided.

What is it all used for? 


On average, approximately 70 percent of that water is used indoors, with the bathroom being the largest consumer (a toilet alone can use 27 percent!).

In developing countries, people without reliable, in-home water access use water for different purposes from multiple sources with different profiles in terms of convenience, quality, reliability, cost and access rights, across different seasons and years.  Water use varies by climatic zone, type of water source and system, distance to water source, season (rainy or dry), household size, housing type, and income. There is also great variation between countries, between villages, and even between households within the same village.

Why do people complain about their water bills?

Good question. In East Africa, as in many developing countries, water is significantly more expensive for people who do not have piped water to their homes, especially in in urban areas, where many people depend  on water vendors and other private suppliers (Porras et al, 2001).

Those of us who have good quality, reliable water that comes to our homes for a relatively low price all day every day, might take a moment to appreciate it.