What’s Your Water Footprint?

We’ve probably all heard and are now familiar with the term “carbon footprint.” But, there’s another concept that’s emerging into public consciousness: the water footprint. The Wikipedia defines “water footprint” as “an indicator of water use that includes both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.”

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we may take water for granted; many of us might not realize just how fragile are our water resources. Personally, my family’s well is very shallow (less than 50 feet) and there are shoreline residents who in recent years have experienced salt water intrusion into their freshwater supply. Thurston County simply doesn’t know what the freshwater carrying capacity of the Steamboat Island peninsula is; it’s not part of the equation, when applications for development are approved. There are many reasons why individuals and corporations should pay attention to the quantity of water resources they are using.

For example, Levis recently accounted for the water use associated with the lifespan of a single pair of their jeans. They found about 900 gallons of water were consumed from the production cycle, all the way back to the cotton plants, through to the owner’s wash cycles. As a consequence of thsi work, Levis is actually telling their customers to think twice, before they wash their pants!

That cup of coffee you might have had, this morning? An estimated 37 gallons of water are behind that (the amount of diesel fuel consumed is beyond the scope of this little article).

A hamburger? 634 gallons. Beef production is very water-intensive. One pound of ground beef takes an estimated 1500 gallons of water.

A glass of wine? 31 gallons of water.

The folks at Good have put together a reference page which describes common products or activities during a normal day. It reports on both “direct” water use – that is, the water you actually use, and “virtual” use, which is the water that helped to make the things you use. Click here to see that page.

In the next months and years, we’re going to hear more and more about issues related to the availability and control of freshwater resources on the planet. “Water footprint” is going to be an increasingly important factor, both for individuals and for the corporations that expect to survive in a future of fragile natural resources.

Click here for more information regarding water footprint.

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