Water Footprint

Do You Know Your Water Footprint?

By Aria Isberto

Water Footprint Calculator

Sometimes it’s difficult to feel connected to water shortage matters in other places, especially when we’re on opposite coasts of the country or half a world away. But while it may seem like the issue is too big, or too far, and our everyday actions as individuals barely make a drop in the bucket, that’s simply not true!

Earlier this week, GRACE Communications Foundation launched a brand-new online footprint calculator that is focused on household water consumption. The interactive questionnaire uses data from the Water Footprint Network, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several other sources to calculate an individual’s water footprint. It takes into account the indoor/outdoor water usage we’re all familiar with, like doing the laundry and washing the car.

Your water footprintIt also calculates virtual water consumption: how much it takes to make the food we eat and the products we purchase. From take-out food to clothing, tech devices and home furniture, all the stuff we buy takes a lot of water to make. Did you know that the average water footprint of an individual in the United States is 2,200 gallons a day?

So take 10-15 minutes of your day to calculate your footprint, or better yet, get the entire household involved! Learn about greywater systems and low flow faucets with your family. Change your answers and see the difference it makes, down to the gallon. You can use it as an educational activity with children (check out our kids section here).

The water footprint calculator is useful in re-evaluating daily habits, and in light of the water shortage issues in the past few years, can also be a reminder of each of our roles in water conservation, no matter where we live. So we can always be mindful consumers of our planet’s resources!

About the Author:
Aria Isberto is an intern at the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she currently resides in Manhattan and is an undergraduate student at Baruch College. Her passions include music, writing and learning about protecting the environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Virtual Water, Real Impacts: World Water Day 2012

By Christina Catanese

In this digital age, it seems everything is becoming virtual.  There are virtual pets, virtual reality, virtual keyboards, and virtual books.  From your computer, you can shop virtually, and take virtual tours.

But virtual water?  How does that work?  We can’t consume water that we can’t see… or can we?

Virtual water is a concept that refers to the water needed to make a product.  We know we should drink 8 glasses of water a day to be hydrated, but it’s easy to overlook the gallons and gallons of water required to produce the food we eat and the things we buy.  This water is virtual in that the end-consumer of a product is not directly using water, but there was water that went into producing the item.  So by consuming these items, we use water indirectly, hence virtually. You might be surprised at how much the hidden water that we consume adds up.

Let’s take the cheeseburger I had for lunch yesterday, for example.  Estimates are that a 1/3 pound burger requires 660 gallons of water to be produced, most of which is for the beef.  One pound of beef requires 1,799 gallons, a pound of cheese requires 700 gallons, and two slices of bread require 22 gallons.  Why does meat require so much more water?  Well, it factors in what’s needed during the entire life of a cow: water for the animal to drink, to grow feed and hay, and to keep stables and farmyards clean.  Guess I should have gone with the salad after all: lettuce only takes about 13 gallons per pound to produce.

Once I started looking for this hidden water, the amount of water I found that I eat got higher quickly, and I started to see connections.  How much water did it take to grow the coffee I drank this morning, and to produce the milk and sugar I put in it?  The banana I put in my cereal?  The cereal itself?  The candy bar I had for a mid-afternoon boost?

Beyond diet, what about the paper all over my desk (1,321 gallons to make 500 sheets)?  The jeans I’m wearing (2,900 gallons for one pair)?  How about the water it takes to produce the fuel that brought all these things to Philadelphia for me to use and consume?  And the energy to power all my appliances at home?  The hidden water we use really adds up, and when you do the math, it starts to seem much more real than virtual.

The estimates of virtual water in this post come from National Geographic and the Water Footprint Network.  Check out this Water Footprint Calculator to see how much water you’re using, virtual or otherwise!  Are you surprised by these numbers?  Do they make you want to change your consumption habits?  WaterSense labeled appliances are one way to reduce your water footprint; what others can you think of?

 

March 22 is World Water Day, a commemorative day by the United Nations to raise awareness about water issues.  This year’s WWD focuses on water and food security and production all over the world.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.