Researchers from North Arizona University found that targeted efforts to annually increase water efficiency in industries and regions across the U.S. would lead to significant water savings, enough to fill Lake Mead in Nevada. Not only could that much water be saved, but it does so without compromising economic production, jobs and tax revenue.

There is no one size fits all method to increasing water efficiency. Choosing a method depends on the region, industry and company involved. The researchers asked: how much water conservation can be affordably achieved in each region and industry in the U.S. without revolutionary changes in technology or laws?

The study demonstrates how water users can reduce water consumption in production and through the supply chain. The goal was to reduce over-exploitation of surface water and groundwater resources. This study builds on earlier research that evaluated the potential water savings in the agricultural sector and cities. Researchers applied the novel approach from this study to evaluate the water savings in the whole economy.

The team looked at the conservation efforts already in practice by leaders in each given industry and region. They focused on what was already working, how much water is being used and how much water was being saved. After gathering the information the team ran statistics and looked for areas that could be improved. The study took into consideration the differences in climate and technology in the industries and states.

The researchers found that streamflow depletion through the western U.S. could be decreased on average by 6.6% to 23.5% without effecting economic production or increasing costs. This proves that significant water savings can happen without effecting the economy.

In the Southwest, there is a sizable agricultural industry and it experiences perennial water scarcity issues. Due to water scarcity issues, there has been a focus on water conservation in this area since the 1980s. The study found that even more improvement is possible.

The majority of U.S. industries and regions have the potential to be the biggest contributions to water conservation. But industries and regions have to work with their suppliers to reduce the water use up the supply chain.

The study found that large manufacturers, retailers and large metropolitan areas downstream in the supply chain need to team up with large water users upstream in the supply chain to develop the right water saving measures for a given area or industry. Downstream entities have more money and influence in making changes. When they team up with the upstream entities, they can successfully organize and fund water conservation.

The study argued that water conservation is achievable today and there is no need for revolutionary development in tech or laws to start an effective water conservation process.

The study was published in Environmental Research Letters.