Which States Have the Highest Percentage of Water Area?

Caitlin Dempsey

Updated:

The recent grip of a multi-year drought in California and the western part of the United States has highlighted just how previous water is as a resource.  

Which states have the highest percentage by area of perennial water and which states have the lowest amount of perennial water?

The USGS has consolidated a table with the area of each state that covered by water from data provided by the  U.S. Census Bureau’s table: Geography: State Area Measurements, 2010.  

The statistics from both tables calculates the amount of area for each state and the District of Columbia that is covered by perennial water.  These calculations don’t include water from intermittent, glacier, and and marsh/swamp sources.


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What Percentage of the United States is Covered in Water?

Overall, the United States has 264,837 square miles of water, accounting for 7% of the total 3,796,742 square miles that is the area of the country.  

State with the Largest Total Area of Water

Alaska has the most water

The state with the largest total area of water is Alaska, which has 94,743 square miles of water.  Alaska contains approximately 12,000 rivers, 3 million lakes larger than 5 acres, and numerous creeks and ponds, accounting for more than 14% of the state’s total area.

McKinley Lake near Cordova, Alaska
McKinley Lake near Cordova, Alaska. Photo: Chris Zimmerman, USGS. Public domain.

Michigan has the second most water of all the US states

The state with the second largest total area is Michigan, a distant second with 40,175 square miles.  

Simple map with blue for the thousands of Minnesota hydrographical features in deep blue against a white background.
Minnesota is a state with thousands of lakes, ponds, rivers, and other water bodies. Map: Caitlin Dempsey with data from Minnesota DNR, 2019.

Where does Minnesota rank in terms of total area for water?

Minnesota, known by the nickname  “Land of 10,000 Lakes” is the state with the ninth largest totay water area.

Top ten states with the most water by area

The top ten states for water by area are:

RankStateArea of water (square miles)
1Alaska94,743
2Michigan40,175
3Florida12,133
4Wisconsin11,339
5Louisiana9,174
6California7,916
7New York7,429
8Texas7,365
9Minnesota7,309
10North Carolina5,201
Top ten states with the most water by area. Source: USGS

States With the Highest Percentage of Water

Percentage wise, however, Michigan ranks as the number one state with 41.5% of its total area occupied by water.  Michigan has more than 64,980 inland lakes and ponds.

Michigan is flanked by four of the five Great Lakes, as well as Lake St. Clair, and boasts the world’s longest freshwater shoreline of any governmental unit.

Sources of water are so abundant in Michigan that no one is ever more than 6 miles from a body of water in Michigan, or 85 miles from a Great Lake.

Photo of Isle Royale National park, Michigan, across an inlet, with rocky headland, blue lake water, and cabin on the opposite shore.
Lake in Isle Royale, Michigan. Photo: USGS, public domain.

Hawaii, with 41.2% of its total area water-based, is a close second.  Hawaii is the only state that is totally surrounded by water and is made up of islands.

Hawaii has an abundance of fresh water and hundreds of streams but very few natural lakes. Only In Hawaii, there are just five natural lakes, all of which are quite small, but 266 freshwater reservoirs with a surface area of up to 400 acres have been formed by impounding stream waters.

Bristle-thighed Curlews on small island in shallow ponds of the Ki’i Unit of the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu, Hawaii. Photo: Lee Tibbitts , U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.
Bristle-thighed Curlews on small island in shallow ponds of the Ki’i Unit of the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu, Hawaii. Photo: Lee Tibbitts , USGS. Public domain.

Alaska’s percentage of area that is water is only 14.2%.

What are the Driest States?

The driest states are found mostly in the mid-west and western part of the country.  New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, and West Virginia all have less than 1% of each state’s total area as water.

Map Showing the Percentage of Water Area Per State

The tile-grid map (see how to make a Tile Grid Map using Excel) below shows which states are the driest (light grey and light blue) and which states are the wettest (medium and dark blues).  

Only three states have 30% or more water area: Rhode Island, Michigan, and Hawaii.  

On the dry side, thirty states have less than five percent water area.

excel-tile-grid-map

This chart shows how the states stack up in terms of percentage area that is water:

Chart listing percentage of water by state in blue bar graph.

Table: Land Area and Water Area of Each State and the District of Columbia

This table shows the total land area and water area of each state and the District of Columbia.  

StateTotal area
square miles
Total area
square kilometers
Land area
square miles
Land area
square kilometers
Water area
square miles
Water area
square kilometers
Percent area, water
Alabama52,420135,76750,645131,1711,7754,5973.40%
Alaska665,3841,723,337570,6411,477,95394,743245,38314.20%
Arizona113,990295,234113,594294,2073961,0260.30%
Arkansas53,179137,73252,035134,7711,1432,9612.10%
California163,695423,967155,779403,4667,91620,5014.80%
Colorado104,094269,601103,642268,4314521,1700.40%
Connecticut5,54314,3574,84212,5427011,81612.60%
Delaware2,4896,4461,9495,0475401,39921.70%
District of Columbia681776115871910.30%
Florida65,758170,31253,625138,88712,13331,42418.50%
Georgia59,425153,91057,513148,9591,9124,9513.20%
Hawaii10,93228,3136,42316,6354,50911,67841.20%
Idaho83,569216,44382,643214,0459262,3981.10%
Illinois57,914149,99555,519143,7932,3956,2024.10%
Indiana36,42094,32635,82692,7895931,5371.60%
Iowa56,273145,74655,857144,6694161,0770.70%
Kansas82,278213,10081,759211,7545201,3460.60%
Kentucky40,408104,65639,486102,2699212,3872.30%
Louisiana52,378135,65943,204111,8989,17423,76117.50%
Maine35,38091,63330,84379,8834,53711,75012.80%
Maryland12,40632,1319,70725,1422,6996,99021.80%
Massachusetts10,55427,3367,80020,2022,7547,13426.10%
Michigan96,714250,48756,539146,43540,175104,05241.50%
Minnesota86,936225,16379,627206,2327,30918,9308.40%
Mississippi48,432125,43846,923121,5311,5093,9073.10%
Missouri69,707180,54068,742178,0409652,5011.40%
Montana147,040380,831145,546376,9621,4943,8691.00%
Nebraska77,348200,33076,824198,9745241,3560.70%
Nevada110,572286,380109,781284,3327912,0480.70%
New Hampshire9,34924,2148,95323,1873971,0274.20%
New Jersey8,72322,5917,35419,0471,3683,54415.70%
New Mexico121,590314,917121,298314,1612927570.20%
New York54,555141,29747,126122,0577,42919,24013.60%
North Carolina53,819139,39148,618125,9205,20113,4719.70%
North Dakota70,698183,10869,001178,7111,6984,3972.40%
Ohio44,826116,09840,861105,8293,96510,2698.80%
Oklahoma69,899181,03768,595177,6601,3043,3771.90%
Oregon98,379254,79995,988248,6082,3916,1912.40%
Pennsylvania46,054119,28044,743115,8831,3123,3972.80%
Rhode Island1,5454,0011,0342,6785111,32433.10%
South Carolina32,02082,93330,06177,8571,9605,0766.10%
South Dakota77,116199,72975,811196,3501,3053,3791.70%
Tennessee42,144109,15341,235106,7989092,3552.20%
Texas268,596695,662261,232676,5877,36519,0752.70%
Utah84,897219,88282,170212,8182,7277,0643.20%
Vermont9,61624,9069,21723,8714001,0354.20%
Virginia42,775110,78739,490102,2793,2858,5087.70%
Washington71,298184,66166,456172,1194,84212,5426.80%
West Virginia24,23062,75624,03862,2591924970.80%
Wisconsin65,496169,63554,158140,26811,33929,36717.30%
Wyoming97,813253,33597,093251,4707201,8640.70%
United States3,796,7429,833,5173,531,9059,147,593264,837685,9247.00%

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.