Americans are using less water per person now than they have since the mid-1950s, thanks to water-saving technologies and a nationwide push to safeguard dwindling supplies.
A report released Thursday by the U.S. Geological Survey also shows that industries as well as the general population are sucking up less water overall than in 1980, when the nation's thirst for water peaked.
Experts said it was particularly welcome news in the burgeoning West, where cities built in dry regions are grappling with intense disputes and ecosystem collapse tied to dwindling supplies.
"Even during a time of population growth and economic growth, we are all using less water," said Susan Hutson, a USGS hydrologist in Memphis, and an author of the report. "It's exciting to see we have responded to these crises by really seeking solutions."
California, in the third year of a withering drought, was the most water-hungry state in 2005, the most recent year for which figures were available.
California used about 9 percent of all water extracted from lakes, rivers and underground aquifers, followed by Texas, Idaho and Illinois. All told, those four states drew more than a quarter of the country's total freshwater supplies in 2005.
Nationwide, about 80 percent of the 410 billion gallons used each day went to produce electricity at thermoelectric power plants and to irrigate farm fields.