- Politics and Social Issues
What's Your Water Footprint?
How Much Water Do You Use Every Day?
The US government estimates that every American uses approximately 80 -100 gallons of water each day. But this number only accounts for the water we use for drinking, bathing, washing, cooking, watering our plants, and other activities that obviously use water.
It doesn't count the water needed to grow the vegetables, meat and other foods we buy at the store or the water necessary to create the electricity or products we use in our home, or the water needed to create the clothes we wear. When you add all those numbers into the equation, National Geographic estimates that an average American uses about 2200 gallons of water per person, per day, more than twice the global average. Here's how to calculate your total "water footprint" and change it.
(Image credit: water footprints by Rudi1976 on Dreamstime)
What is a Water Footprint?
Calculating the hidden costs of everyday living
Many people are already aware of the idea of a carbon footprint, a measure of all the greenhouse gases that directly or indirectly support your lifestyle and contribute to global climate change. Similarly, a water footprint measures both the direct and indirect uses of freshwater in your life. It's not about how long you stay in the shower. It's about understanding how the choices we make can impact the global supply of our most precious natural resource.
According to National Geographic, 95% of the water we use comes from "hidden" sources. For instance, it takes 713 gallons of water to produce a cotton T-shirt, 198 gallons of water to create a pound of refined sugar, and 1321 gallons to make 500 sheets of paper. Some of that water may come from local sources, but there are also often global implications. One cup of coffee requires 37 gallons of water to produce, but since almost all of the coffee consumed in the US is grown outside the country, the impact is not local.
Even the electricity you use every day requires water. According to the US Geological Survey, 201 billion gallons of water are used every day to produce electricity in the United States.
A footprint calculator can help you understand how much water you really use every day and how your choices can affect our global water supply.
(Image by Mrtolc on Dreamstime)
Save Electricity, Save Water - Another hidden source of water use
(Image by Lisa Howard)
Find Your Own Footprint with a Water Footprint Calculator
Several options to help you understand your impact on the world
Ready to find your own water footprint? Then visit one of these sites.
The Water Footprint Networks offers both a quick calculator (which gives an average based solely on your country, sex, dietary habits and income) and an extended calculator that requires you to input a number of details about life, such as how many kilos of wheat, eggs, dairy, meat, fruits, etc. you eat each week.
Americans who prefer to think in pounds instead of kilos might prefer the National Geographic Water Footprint Calculator. This is more detailed than the quick calculator and less detailed than the extended calculator above. It only takes a few minutes to complete the survey, and at the end National Geographic will tell you whether you are above or below the national average and will break down your consumption into home and yard, diet, transportation and energy, and products you use. You'll also then have an option to take a pledge to reduce your footprint and help water restoration projects.
The Grace Communication Foundation also offers a Water Footprint Calculator that provides suggestions at the end of the survey on ways you can reduce your footprint.
(Image compilation by Lisa Howard)
Typical Water Use at Home - These are obvious ways in which we use water every day
Data from USGS
Water Footprint Video - From WWF Canada
Nearly 95 percent of your water footprint is hidden in the food you eat, energy you use, products you buy, and services you rely on.— National Geographic
Read More About Water - Books to help you understand the issues
If you'd like to know more about water footprints, a good reference is The Water Footprint Assessment Manual. This free 228-page pdf sholarly manual was a joint effort of the Water Footprint Network, its 139 partners and scientists of the University of Twente in the Netherlands. The writing is rather dense, however, so if you're looking for something that's a bit more readable, try one of these books.
Change the Course!
Pledge to cut your water footprint and help National Geographic restore freshwater in the Colorado River Basin.
Visit Change the Course and make your pledge! Or text RIVER to 77177.
For each pledge, corporate sponsors help restore 1000 gallons to the river.
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