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What's Your Water Footprint?

Updated on April 23, 2014

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)

water footprint calculator
water footprint calculator

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

per capita water use at home from USGS
per capita water use at home from USGS

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.

You don't need to be a member of Squidoo to leave a comment, so please take a moment to leave a message below and let me know what you thought of this article.

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    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 2 years ago

      We are fortunate here with about 60 inches of rain each year.

    • Mary Crowther profile image

      Mary Crowther 3 years ago from Havre de Grace

      This topic is so thought provoking when I think about the amount of water use that goes on every day for millions of people. If everyone just cut back a little.......

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 3 years ago from Canada

      Interesting. I never knew there was such a thing as a Water Footprint Calculator.

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 3 years ago from Orange County, California

      I live in California and your hub is very thought-provoking. We all need to pay more attention to our Water Footprint.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      You may think me a little overly emotional, but it actually brought tears to my eyes to find this page on HubPages. Such an important topic! I am scratching this off my list of "HubPages to research and write." You've done a far better job than I could have.

      Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Sharing every which way I can.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 3 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Now I know what a water footprint is.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      This is a very useful hub, and especially important for those of us who live in California.

    • profile image

      debW07 3 years ago

      This is eye-opening! I was taken aback when I read that it took 713 gallons of water to produce a cotton T-shirt and 198 gallons of water to create a pound of refined sugar, wow! After reading this, I'll definitely pay attention to my "water footprint." Great job!

    • kateloving profile image

      Kate Loving Shenk 3 years ago from Lancaster PA

      Hello fellow green living squidoo contributor! I am the the Simple Living Contributor here! We have a lot in common.

    • LisaDH profile image
      Author

      LisaDH 3 years ago

      @DebMartin: You're right - I don't think most people realize it takes more water to create the bottle. I should find a graphic to illustrate that!

    • LisaDH profile image
      Author

      LisaDH 3 years ago

      @Lorelei Cohen: Unless you have an old showerhead or take very long showers, a shower is usually more efficient than a bath. You can see from the USGS stats above that a shower uses 2 gpm and I've read that the average American spends 8 minutes in the shower, so that's 16 gallons. If your husband uses your water and then fills the tub the rest of the way, he might be adding another 20 gallons of water. That's still more than he'd use in an 8-minute shower, even though the tub was already partially full from your shower. But it's better than filling the tub from empty!

    • profile image

      r_anand 3 years ago

      It is very informative lens about water..added more to my knowledge ..thanks

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      This is such a critical subject. I have just started to be more aware of how much water it takes to create products. While I do well conserving water at home, I want to ensure that I am also doing as much as possible with the water I never see. Thanks for a very enlightening collection of resources here. Appreciated!

    • profile image

      DebMartin 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this. One thing that amazes me is the amount of bottled water that people drink, not understanding that it takes about 4 to 6 times the amount of water in the bottle just to make the bottle. And then they throw the bottle away. You are right, the day will come when we are faced with just how precious our water is.

    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 3 years ago from Kentucky

      Wow had no idea really just how much water we use! Great information, a lot of the new shower heads also have a water conservation mode which has a smaller stream and puts out less water.

    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 3 years ago

      Love that information. Save energy to save water. Sundae ;-)

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      I am disabled and cannot get into a bathtub. I have to shower but the funny thing I noticed on the water use is how little water actually is used. My husband often says just save me the water and the tub does not fill to where he fills it during my shower time. I often see or hear how wasteful showering is but we must have a good shower head because I use less on my shower than my husband does in his bath. (Now that was a personal comment lol.)

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Having lived a large portion of my life in the Southwest desert, water conservation has always been a conscious part of daily life. Great lens!