Water is a truly versatile substance with countless uses. A quick look around our homes shows many of the ways water impacts our lives daily. We drink it, use it to prepare food, bathe, flush toilets, keep our plants alive, wash our cars, clothes, dishes and much more.

The importance of water in our lives doesn’t stop there. It is central to producing the electricity that lights our homes, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, even the materials used to build the places we live. And this is just in our homes. Beyond our front doors it doesn’t take long to discover the near endless list of needs met by water.

But there are some regions of this Earth where water shortages force people to regularly choose which needs they can meet and which must remain unfulfilled.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, about 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions. An area is considered under water stress when supplies fall below 1,700 cubic meters of water per person annually.

Fortunately this has not yet been a widespread issue in the United States, Texas or the Brazos River basin. But with Texas’ population set to double in the next few decades, if something isn’t done to meet growing needs we could one day face a situation where we have to decide what we would be willing to give up.

The Brazos River Authority is busy looking for ways to ensure people in the Brazos basin will have continued access to water, through building reservoirs, securing groundwater and other options. These efforts take time, however, and we can all help out by using our existing water wisely.

To give you an idea what is at stake if we don’t find ways to make our water supply last, here are just a few examples of the role water plays in our lives.

Domestic use: For most of us, the most visible use of water is that which happens in our homes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average residence uses about 107,000 gallons of water each year. This includes the water from our taps we use for drinking and cooking our foods.

But you might be surprised to learn how much water goes to various purposes in your home. Each toilet flush uses two to seven gallons. A five-minute shower drains another 25 to 50 gallons. On average we use about two gallons each time we brush our teeth if the sink is left running, 20 gallons to hand-wash a sink full of dishes and nine to 12 gallons for the average dishwasher load. Depending on size, clothes washers can use 10 to 24 gallons of water each load.

We also use water to keep our homes clean, inside and out and to wash our cars as well. Other household water uses include irrigation for lawns, gardens and landscapes. This is by far the largest water user for homes with modest to large irrigated yards, which can use over 50,000 gallons per month during the summer.

Agriculture: Our nation has a vast wealth of resources to help keep her people fed and healthy. However, these crops and animals depend on water to thrive and produce the food we depend on. When rain is scarce such as in the drought we recently have experienced, we rely more heavily on our public water supply to make up the difference.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, producing one pound of chicken meat takes about 500 gallons of water. This includes water for the chickens to drink and for growing the grain they eat. A third-pound hamburger patty takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons and a slice of bread takes about 10 gallons.

That mug of coffee may only hold a cup or two, but the growing process for that hot beverage consumes about 35 gallons. A pound of corn takes about 110 gallons and a pound of potatoes, about 100 gallons.

Manufacturing: Believe it or not water is a vital component to manufacturing the many items needed or desired by consumers. Some goods are made from animal or plant materials that need water to grow. For instance, a cotton T-shirt can require up to 700 gallons. Making a sheet of paper uses about three gallons of water.

Synthetic materials also require plenty of water. For instance, making a pound of plastic takes about 24 gallons.

Relatedly, materials that are obtained through mining also require water. Limestone, gravel and other materials taken from the ground for the buildings and infrastructure we depend on all use water as part of the mining process. A barrel of oil takes 1,851 gallons of water to refine. One ton of steel requires 62,600 gallons.

Energy production: Whenever you turn on the air-conditioner on a hot summer day or the heater during winter, take food out of your refrigerator or turn on a light so you can read at night, you may not realize it but water played a major role in making that happen.

You might find it surprising that much of the electricity generated in Texas requires that water be used in the process. Coal or gas, nuclear and hydroelectric plants all require a steady supply of water to function.

In coal and gas power plants, water is pumped into a boiler, where it is heated by burning coal or gas. This produces high-pressure steam, which pushes the blades of a turbine, generating electricity. A similar process is used in nuclear power plants. Water is also used to cool the reactor; to help moderate the heat generated by nuclear reactions.

Hydroelectric plants also use water to generate power. The electricity is produced when water is released from a reservoir into a powerhouse, where it turns the turbines that create electricity.

These are just a few of the many ways water plays an important role in our lives each day. A shortness of this vital liquid might one day force us to decide which benefits we need to keep and which ones we will have to live without. Water providers will continue to work to find and expand water sources. But just as important, we can all do our part to conserve water to make the most of what we have.

To learn more, please visit the BRA’s water conservation page, here.