A primer on water

General Interest Publication




When you open the faucet you expect water to flow. And you expect it to flow night or day, summer or winter, whether you want to fill a glass or water the lawn. It should be clean and pure, without any odor.

You have seen or read about places where the water doesn't have these qualities. You may have lived in a city where you were allowed to water the lawn only during a few hours of certain days. We know a large town where the water turns brown after every big rainstorm.

Beginning shortly after World War II, large areas in the Southwestern United States had a 10-year drought, and newspapers published a lot of information about its effects. Some people say that the growing demand for water will cause serious shortages over much of the country in the next 10 to 40 years. But it has always been true that while water wells and springs dry up in some places, floods may be occurring in other places at the same time.

Nearly every month news stories are published describing floods somewhere in the country. In fact, every year, on the average, 75,000 persons are forced from their homes by floods. In some years, as in 1951 when the lower Kansas River experienced a great flood, half a million people are affected. To understand the reasons for such recurring distress, it is necessary to know something about rivers and about the flat land or flood plain that borders the river.

Interest in water and related problems is growing as our population increases and as the use of water becomes steadily greater. To help meet this heightened interest in general information about water and its use and control is the reason this primer was written. The primer is in two parts. The first part tells about hydrology, or the science that concerns the relation of water to our earth, and the second part describes the development of water supplies and the use of water. The Geological Survey is publishing this primer in nontechnical language in the hope that it will enable the general reader to understand the facts about water as a part of nature, and that by having this understanding the people can solve their water problems.

We, as representatives of the Geological Survey, acknowledge with thanks the helpful suggestions made on an early draft by Marion Loizeaux, Maria Lord Converse, Constance Foley, Laura R. Langbein, and Bruce C. Leopold. We are also indebted to various geologists and engineers of the Survey for their discerning critical reviews.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Unnumbered Series
A primer on water
Series title:
General Interest Publication
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
iv, 50 p.