I would argue that this issue stems from the metabolic rift– the disconnect between people and the environment. Essentially, people are unaware of where water comes from and where their waste water goes to. They take for granted that the water will just be flowing out of their taps therefore they undervalue it and are content wasting it.
I don’t think the disconnect between people and the environment can explain the high water consumption rates in the US entirely. I suspect that it is because (according to 2008 data) the US has the lowest average water rates compared to 13 other industrialized nations. This rate is only 74 US cents per cubic meter, about 25 cents lower than the next highest nation, South Africa. When water is cheaper, people are more likely to use more of it.
Valeriec5 is right to note that low water rates enable higher consumption, but the low rates may partially be due to the fact that the US is a “water-rich” country, with plenty of water on the whole compared to other countries. (http://sitemaker.umich.edu/section9group6/introduction)
Agricultural consumption of water might actually be the main reason we have the highest consumption, but I’m not sure if that amount is included in the statistics about per capita consumption. Agricultural use accounts for “80 percent of the Nation’s consumptive water use and over 90 percent in many Western States.” (http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/WaterUse/) Because we export beef, we use a huge amount of water in growing grain to feed cows, driving up our national water consumption compared to other countries.
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