Water use in Georgia by county for 2010 and water-use trends, 1985–2010

Open-File Report 2015-1230

Prepared in cooperation with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division



Water use and water withdrawals and returns in 2010 are estimated for each major river basin, principal aquifer, water-planning region, and county in Georgia using data obtained from various Federal and State agencies and local sources. Offstream water use in 2010 is estimated for the categories of public supply, domestic, commercial, industrial, mining, irrigation, livestock, aquaculture, and thermoelectric power. Water-use trends for 1985 to 2010 are also shown.

The period between 2007 and 2010 was a challenging time economically and climatologically in Georgia. During that period, the United States was in the midst of a major recession, resulting in decreases in the manufacturing and construction industries and large increases in unemployment. During 2007, 2008, and the latter half of 2010, precipitation in Georgia was substantially below the 30-year norm.

According to the 2010 Census of Population and Housing, nearly 9.7 million people lived in Georgia. The water for about 85 percent of that population was provided by public water suppliers. Estimated total water withdrawals from ground-water and surface-water sources were about 4,670 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) in 2010, about a 15-percent reduction from 2005 (5,471 Mgal/d). In 2010, thermoelectric-power facilities (2,046 Mgal/d) and public-supply uses (1,121 Mgal/d) accounted for 68 percent of all water withdrawn in Georgia. Surface-water withdrawals were greatest for thermoelectric-power generation (2,043 Mgal/d), whereas irrigation used the largest amount of groundwater (599 Mgal/d). Surface water provided 78 percent of the 1,121 Mgal/day withdrawn for public supply in 2010. Typically, counties in northern Georgia withdraw a larger percentage of water from surface water than groundwater sources; whereas, counties in the southern part of the State withdraw more water from groundwater sources.

Historically, water withdrawals in Georgia were highest in 1980 (6,725 Mgal/d). By 1990, water use had decreased by 20 percent to 5,353 Mgal/d, but increased to 6,487 Mgal/d in 2000. By 2005, water use had decreased to an estimated 5,471 Mgal/d, and declined further to 4,670 Mgal/d in 2010—a 30-percent decrease since 1980. This decline was evident across all water-use categories, but was greatest for surface-water withdrawals by thermoelectric-power facilities. The estimated total water use per capita in 1985 (total withdrawals for all categories divided by total population) was about 850 gallons per day (gal/d), steadily decreasing to about 798 gal/d in 2000, and decreasing further to 460 gal/d in 2010. Although water use declined among all use categories during that 10-year period, most of the decline in per capita water use was caused by the large decrease in water used for thermoelectric-power generation.

Throughout 1985–2010 water withdrawn for thermoelectric-power generation has constituted the largest volume of offstream water use in Georgia. Total withdrawals for thermoelectric-power generation declined about 37 percent between 2000 and 2010, mostly due to the decommissioning of power plants in the State. Also during this period, several power plants were shut down and re-tooled to use natural gas-powered generators; thus, water withdrawals for cooling were substantially reduced.

The decline in water withdrawals and use between 2005 and 2010 can probably be attributed to several factors working together during this period: (1) water conservation laws and policies along with advances in water-conservation technology; (2) the onset of a major recession in 2007; and (3) below average rainfall in 2007, 2008, and the latter half of 2010. Because of these factors, water withdrawn by public suppliers decreased by 4.8 percent (despite a nearly 11-percent increase in population served) and per capita use decreased by 19 percent between 2005 and 2010.

About 2,225 Mgal/d of water was returned to Georgia streams and lakes in 2010 under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program administered by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. This amount is about 48 percent of the total water withdrawn from all sources in 2010. Water returns declined 39 percent between 1995 and 2010, mirroring the decline in water withdrawals during that period. In addition, land applications of treated wastewater increased steadily between 1995 and 2010.

Suggested Citation

Lawrence, S.J., 2016, Water use in Georgia by county for 2010 and water-use trends, 1985–2010 (ver. 1.1, January 2016): U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1230, 206 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Data Sources and Methodology
  • Water Withdrawals, Estimated Water Use, and Surface-Water Returns
  • Water-Use Trends, 1985–2010
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Glossary
  • Appendix 1. North American Industrial Classification Codes
  • Appendix 2. Population, Water Withdrawals, and Water Use by Source of Water for Each County in Georgia, 2010

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Water use in Georgia by county for 2010 and water-use trends, 1985–2010
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Version 1.0: Originally posted December 16, 2015; Version 1.1: January 15, 2016
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
South Atlantic Water Science Center
viii, 206 p.
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
United States
Online Only (Y/N):
Additional Online Files (Y/N):