Water Footprint and Virtual Water Trade

drinking water

With the recent advent of climate change into mainstream media, most individuals are aware of a concept called a Carbon Footprint. If not, I will let you know briefly, a Carbon Footprint is a measure of how much C02 a person produces by lifestyle choices.
A membrane
However, less popular, but no less important, is the concept of a Water Footprint. This concept calculates a measure of how much H20 a person utilizes by lifestyle choices, or average annual water consumption.

UNESCO-IHE and University of Twente in the Netherlands have been actively researching the concept of a water footprint, as well as the concept of virtual water trade. On their website, they have developed a tool that will calculate individual and country specific water consumption.

Calculate your total water consumption here.

       Photo courtesy, eisenrah on flickr.

Given my interest in water conservation, I decided to calculate my annual water-usage. Using the water footprint calculator, it was difficult to know if my entries of weekly foods in Kilograms were exact. However, after a little thought, I was able to accurately gage my edibles by the pound for conversion into Kg. My entries concerning home usage were much easier including showers, dishes, and yard-watering.

So, the grand total of my water usage, according to the Water Footprint Calculator is:

  • 707 cubic meters per year
  • .573 acre feet per year
  • 186,770 gallons per year

It is true that Americans, in general, have high water consumption. My annual water totals are indicative of this fact. It would be sobering to compare per capita water consumption in countries throughout the world. Although one thing is certain, I aim to decrease my annual totals, and it starts with my daily choices…

9 thoughts on “Water Footprint and Virtual Water Trade

  1. o.k. this may sound stupid, but please school me: whats the point of someone cutting back on their water consumption if they live in a place with copious amounts of potable water? i understand that it takes energy to treat water before it is “safe” to consume–so i see that we can save energy by using less water. but if i cut back on my water consumption, am i helping people who are unlucky enough to be born in places without clean water?

  2. Thank you very much for the comment, hollydahlia. The question you ask, in fact, is a very common one near my home in Western Washington, where it is very wet, to say the least (average annual precipitation = in excess of 50 inches).

    Drinking water is typically derived from surface-water or ground-water sources. Even in places with copious amounts of rain, changes are becoming apparent in seasonal water availability. As the climate continues to warm, as theorized by leading scientists throughout the world, we will only see more erratic behavior of our water supplies. Here in Western Washington, we are starting to see lower summer stream flows, with wetter winters. This unstable behavior could increase the need for drinking water storage through the summer. If drinking water is dependent upon groundwater, it is important that the aquifers are not drained quicker than they can recharge. Also, as we know, the population is predicted to crest 9 billion by 2042, creating even greater demand on available water resources. Therefore, I believe, water conservation is important wherever one may live to conserve water supplies.

    You ask “if i cut back on my water consumption, am i helping people who are unlucky enough to be born in places without clean water?”

    In humble opinion, while your water conservation efforts in Hawaii may not directly increase water supplies in Palestine, your water conservation efforts will have lasting effects in countries throughout the world.

    By making conscious efforts to conserve water, you will be treading lighter on the earth, as well as helping society to make the paradigm shift that needs to occur if we are to preserve natural resources on this earth for future generations.

  3. Ok Miss Dahlia, here it is.

    If you cut back on your water consumption, it won’t help people who weren’t lucky enough to be born with ample supplies of water, but it will save energy which will in the long run make the planet better for everyone.

  4. Because I live in a place without ample water, if I had a yard, I would not put grass in it therefore requiring me to water it daily. I would use desert scape landscaping because there’s no reason to grow grass where it doesn’t naturally grow.

  5. I haven’t bought bottled water since I took the bottled water pledge! I have also been telling everyone I know that they should ween themselves off it.

  6. Thanks Fani for the comments.

    Those were all very important observations. And, I would also like to add that, if we watch our daily food choices (and avoid foods that took a lot of water to produce), then depending on where the food was imported from, we may actually be increasing the amount of water in a very arid area. So, after some thought, I would say, Yes, water conservation could increase water supplies in other parts of the world.

  7. I appreicate the focus of this article on looking at personal behavior as a means of dealing with a pressing issue. The environmental movement as a whole and most movements that seek change seem to focus more often on political action than personal action to effect change. While, in my opinion most political and legislative methods have mixed results, personal change has both direct and indirect effects. Direct because it seems that no vote speaks louder than the ones we cast with our financial choices and indirect by the example one provides by their lifestyle choices.

    I think some simple examples of ways to decrease ones water foot print would be of value.

  8. Yes, you do bring up an interesting topic of how environmental change happens on many levels. I have been turning this thought over in many head for several years now. I have gotten to the point of breaking it down roughly in this manner, environmental changes occurs through:

    International Movements (political, such as the UN, and non-governmental)
    National Movements (political and non-governmental)
    Localized Political Movements (city, state, etc.)
    Grassroots Movements (localized non-governmental)
    Individuals Movements (daily choices)

    (Now I am probably leaving some out here with this is an impromptu list from my head.)

    But, environmental change does occur and is necessary in many forms. It could be argued that the most direct and quickest way to affect change is through our daily choices, as you have stated. Also, our individual choices will influence policy in the long-run, so that is an important concept too.

    Thanks for the idea to add more on the site about water conservation measures individuals can use, I will. Also, if you have not already, see the Make A Difference, link at the top of the page for more ideas (although it definitely needs more added).

  9. when I calculate my water footprint, I see that much of my water comes from US middle west. Do you have so much water there (Texas, Iowa etc) to export virtual water?

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