Water Facts


  • One acre-foot of water (the measure typically used to quantify water rights) = 325,851 gallons.
  • Stream flow is generally measured in cubic feet per second (CFS).
    • 1 cubic foot = 7.48 gallons; thus  1 CFS = 7.48 gallons per second
    • 1 CFS = 448.8 gallons per minute =  1.98 acre- ft/day = 722 acre-ft/year
    • One million gallons per day = 1.55 CFS = 3.07 acre-ft/day = 1120 acre-ft/year
  • Nationwide, an average single-family home connected to a municipal water supply system and paying for water from that utility uses around 166 gallons of water a day.  This equates to 5000 gallons of water per month, 60,000 gallons per year, or 0.18595 acre feet of water per year.
  • 5000 gallons of water use/day (the amount allowed under a permit exempt well in Washington) equates to 1,825,000 gallons/year, or 5.6 acre/feet/year.
  • Use of public water costs nothing for permit exempt wells and holders of individual water rights.  In contrast, customers connected to a water system pay for use of water.

River Anatomy

American Rivers

Headwaters/river source: The beginning, or source, of a river is called its headwaters. Some headwaters are springs that come from under the ground. Others are marshy areas fed by mountain snow. A river’s headwaters can be huge, with thousands of small streams that flow together, or just a trickle from a lake or pond.

Tributaries: A tributary is a river or stream that feeds into another river, rather than ending in a lake, pond, or ocean. If a river is large, there’s a good chance that much of its water comes from tributaries.

River Channel: A river’s channel is its unique signature, the course it carves across the landscape. The shape of a river channel depends on how much water has been flowing in it for how long, over what kinds of osil, rock and vegetation. There are many different kinds of river channels- some are wide and constantly changing, some crisscross like a braid, and others stay in one main channel between steep banks.

Riverbank: The land next to a river is called the riverbank, and the stream-side trees and other vegetation is sometimes called the riparian zone. This area provides important habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Mouth/Delta: The end of a river is its mouth, or delta. At a river’s delta, the land flattens out and the water loses speed, spreading into a fan shape. Usually this happens when a river meets an ocean, lake, or wetland.

Water Cycle

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Water 101

There are no alternatives to the lack of clean water. Technology cannot create new water and so we must protect and preserve the water that we have. That means not polluting it, of course, but also conserving it. Our demand for water globally increases not just to keep up with population growth, but also because consumer-based societies use far more water than agrarian ones.

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Photo courtesy of Keith Massil

In the “developed” world, most of the water we consume is in the food we eat and the products we buy. The jeans you might be wearing took 2,900 gallons of water to construct; a one-pound steak requires 1,800 gallons to produce! These figures do not account for water pollution from the production of these commodities. On a per capita basis, we in the United States consume more water than anyone else in the world.

Here in the Northwest, consumption is increasing–due to overall population growth, “infilling” of once-rural areas with homes and irrigated acreage, and a market-driven shift to “water-expensive”, high-value crops, such as vineyards.

But as our consumption increases, our supply decreases.

Climate change scientists predict that our freshwater resources will decline as glaciers disappear. Melting snowpack seeps into the ground and recharges our aquifers.  In the Northwest, 60% of our drinking water comes from groundwater.  100% of the water in our rivers and streams comes from groundwater during the parched summertime.

We have not yet seen the full impacts of climate change.  But we are already in trouble.

Groundwater supplies in some critical Washington aquifers have been dropping for decades; we are pumping more water than is recharging the aquifer. No place underscores this problem more than the Odessa Aquifer in Lincoln and Adams Counties of Washington State.

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Photo by Rosi Brown

Water levels in the Odessa basalt aquifer annually drop roughly 7 feet per year due to pumping from wells. In the past 26 years, the United States Geological Survey has measured a 180 foot decline in the aquifer that sustains the people, wildlife, and agriculture of Lincoln and Adams Counties. State and federal authorities have planned an elaborate, enormously expensive program to pump water from the Columbia River hundreds of miles to artificially recharge the parched aquifer.  This is all before the impacts of climate change truly became apparent in Eastern Washington.

CELP believes that for all children, we have to act now to preserve and protect this most essential resource–water. We can’t wait.

¨“By the law of nature these things are common to mankind –the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.” – Institutes of Justinian (466 A.D.)