US Army Corps of Engineers
Institute for Water Resources

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Value to the Nation


Water Supply: Economic Activities

Water plays an integral role in the day-to-day operation of nearly every business in the United States. A reliable water supply system is crucial to the effective functioning of the economy. USACE water supply projects help ensure a steady flow of water to the nation's businesses. With projects located in all regions of the country, the water supply by USACE projects is able to contribute to the total national economy. In addition, the $1.5 billion invested in the water supply storage space as well as the corresponding yearly operation and maintenance expense is all reimbursed by the state and local interests through repayment agreements. This money as well as any appropriate interest payment is deposited into the U.S. Treasury.

Graphic of water supply and irrigation storage. Click for full size picture
Image of water supply and
irrigation storage

USACE water supply projects also are important to sustaining the nation's agricultural system. Eighty percent of the water consumed in the United States is used to irrigate crops, feed livestock and support other agricultural uses. USACE works with the Bureau of Reclamation to help provide irrigation water to western farmers. These farmers care for 10 million acres of land, producing 60 percent of the nation's vegetables and 25 percent of its fruits and nuts. USACE has approximately 480,306 acre-feet of storage space in 24 projects in the Western states for use by irrigation and other uses.

USACE drought assistance programs also help to limit the impact of water shortages on businesses. In addition, USACE provides advice and technical assistance to state and local governments to help communities and businesses use water resources more efficiently and cost-effectively. The USACE Hydrologic Engineering Center has developed state-of-the art computer software to assist businesses and government agencies in conducting water supply analyses and developing water utilization plans.

Finally, USACE is working to address future challenges to the nation's water supply system that could have a substantial impact on the economy. Foremost among these is the rapidly growing need for increased water supplies in certain parts of the country. In general, the country is using water more efficiently today than ever before, but the population of many U.S. cities is growing so fast that it is outstripping these efficiency gains, requiring communities to develop new water supply sources.

To address these concerns USACE is exploring ways to increase the available supply of water for communities and businesses by modifying dams to provide more water storage space; converting storage space being used for other purposes to water supply storage; and making other changes that will maximize the amount of water supply storage space available at existing projects. This effort is being pursued through a 2-year National Portfolio Assessment for Reallocations. This is an appraisal of the portfolio of existing USACE multipurpose projects and will be used as a screening tool to identify the best candidates for opportunities for operational changes and/or reallocation opportunities.

USACE currently manages approximately 380 major dams and reservoirs, providing significant flood control, recreation, water supply, environmental and hydropower benefits to all regions of the country. Some of these reservoirs, however, may use operation plans that no longer reflect the best comparative net economic and environmental returns for the nation. In addition, project hydrology may have changed due to modifications in land use as well as climatic conditions since the time the projects were originally designed and built. In addition, USACE is working with state and federal water supply agencies and private companies to upgrade the nation's aging water infrastructure (reservoirs, diversion structures, pipelines, etc.). In many sections of the U.S. significant parts of the infrastructure are 50 to 100 years old.

Water supply graphic

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