Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Sunday, May 26
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

Study shows Americans tend to underestimate use of water

With a recycle bin in every hallway and low-wattage light bulbs on every store shelf, it might be surprising to discover most Americans use twice the amount of water daily than they think they do.

Shahzeen Attari, an assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, surveyed 1,020 Americans nationwide through an online survey about their water use.

Her article, “Perceptions of Water Use,” is the end product of her survey and was published March 2 in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, according to an IU press release.

“People tend to underestimate water use in general,” Attari said.

“On average, across 17 different activities that I tested, people on average tend to underestimate water use by a factor of two.”

She said Americans use a lot of water in their toilets, their washing machines and their showers.

Sophomore Hannah Murray said she pays attention to her water usage.

“I feel bad about it,” she said.

She said she tries to take shorter showers.

“When people are asked about the single most effective thing, they usually think about things that are what I call curtailments — which is basically doing the same behavior, but doing less of it, such as taking a shorter shower,” Attari said.

For students, she suggests curtailments like washing a full load of laundry, taking less time to shower and flushing the toilet less.

“On average, right now, Americans shower for roughly eight minutes,” Attari said. “So, if we could reduce that to five minutes, that would be great.”

Not surprisingly, she said, participants also didn’t know how much water went in to the food they eat.

Attari noted that water conservation is important now, especially in states such as California and Colorado who are going through a period of drought.

“With climate change, we’re going to have more salinization of ground water,” Attari said.

“So that means our ground water will become more salty. And we also have more variation of precipitation. What that means is that our rainfall will become more uncertain.”

Much of her work consists of finding ways to change people’s perceptions on their water consumption.

“Given that supply becomes a little bit more uncertain, we need to figure out how much we can push demand,” she said.

Murray said she thinks that conserving water is important.

“I think that we shouldn’t waste it,” she said. “That there are a lot of people in the world that don’t have clean water.”

Get stories like this in your inbox