Water use in Madison drops to lowest level in 50 years
Madison Water Utility pumped 9.4 billion gallons of water in 2017, the lowest number since 1967. Madison has about 95,000 more people than it did 50 years ago, but for much of the last decade, water use has been on the decline. The trend is reflected in a similar drop in residential per-capita water use in Madison. People living in single-family homes used about 75 gallons of water per-person per-day 15 years ago. In 2016, that number was just over 55.
There are a many factors contributing to the drop in water use, including more efficient appliances, toilets, plumbing fixtures and industrial equipment, as well as a greater community focus on sustainable outdoor watering practices and using drought-tolerant landscaping. Madison Water Utility has also been working hard to encourage conservation through its popular Toilet Rebate Program, which has saved more than a half billion gallons of water since 2009. And more than 10,000 people have signed up to use the utility’s online conservation tool that allows customers to track their weekly, daily and even hourly water use.
The Oscar Mayer plant closure has also had an impact on Madison’s water use. When it was at full production, the plant used about 400 million gallons of water a year and was Madison Water Utility’s biggest industrial customer. In 2017, it used just over 79 million gallons.
The water we use in Madison – to bathe, to wash our hands, to fill pools and fight fires – comes from a massive sandstone aquifer formation that sits below the city. Maintaining the health of that aquifer is a priority for Madison Water Utility. In 1998, measurements taken from a well in the basement of the State Capitol building showed aquifer water levels had dropped below 130 feet, the lowest since consistent measuring began in the 1930s. But declining water use coupled with changes in the utility’s pumping strategy have turned things around. Aquifer levels have been increasing since 2006, and only continued vigilance and conservation will allow us to preserve this critical resource for generations to come.