What’s Your Water Footprint?

Water Footprint | Source: waterfootprint.orgRight now, oil is the hot commodity. But it might not always be that way. Whether or not we have hit peak oil, it’s a finite resource and it won’t last forever. And then the real resource war will start. Because, you see, humans can survive without oil. Our ancestors did so for thousands of years. What humans cannot survive without is water. And water, like oil, is a finite resource. Look around you, and it might seem like there is plenty of water. We live around lakes, rivers, streams and creeks. You probably have a decorative fountain or pool not far away. Water freely flows out of our taps and into our toilets. Well, not literally out of course, that water comes at a cost, both financial and environmental.

Why Should I Care About Water?

Because our oceans cover 71% of the earth, and they contain 97% of the Earth’s water, most of the water on our planet is not readily accessible to us. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to drink salt water, but it doesn’t taste very good. Its also extremely corrosive to just about anything. You can desalinate water, but that only further exasperates the problem as the amount of money and resources required to desalinate water is huge. So what we’re left with is 3% of the water on the Earth, and the reality is that even that number is very generous because of lot of the Earth’s freshwater is frozen in glaciers.

With so little water available to us, we need to start thinking now about our water usage. According to waterfootprint.org, the water footprint of an average Canadian is 2.3 million litres per person per year. 2.3 MILLION LITRES! I can’t even imagine that volume of water. 21% of that water comes from out of the country, and a large portion of the water is what we call ‘virtual water’.

What is Virtual Water?

Virtual water is all the water that gets used to produce the goods and services we use on a day-to-day basis. For example, when you buy clothes, some water has undoubtedly gone into the production of that clothing. Water is used to feed the animals and grow the plants that we eat. Virtual water is the water we use without even realizing it. You might think that there is nothing we can do about our virtual water footprint. But that’s where you would be wrong, because all the choices we make as consumers affect our virtual water usage. Check out this Product Water Footprint Gallery to see how much water goes into some of the things we eat. Here are a few examples:

  • Butter: 5,553 L/kg
  • Cheese: 3,178 L/kg
  • Chicken Meat: 4,325 L/kg
  • Chocolate: 17,196 L/kg!
  • Coffee: 132 L per cup!!

There’s another reason not to drink coffee if you ever needed one!

What’s Your Water Footprint?

Use this calculator on waterfootprint.org to get an estimate of your water footprint. I used rough estimates for the food categories, but my number came in at about 1,178 cubic meters per year, or 1.2 million litres per year. That’s about half of the average Canadian largely because I’m an urban dweller without a lawn, pool, car, etc. Even though I rarely eat meat, my greatest source of virtual water in food was still meat – a great example of how water-intensive meat production is as a process.

How Can I Reduce My Water Footprint?

There are lots of ways to reduce your water footprint, both in the home and in the choices you make.

  • The next time you replace water fixtures (i.e. taps, showerheads, toilets, etc.), make sure you buy water-efficient fixtures that reduce the amount of water used.
  • On that note, fix leaky water faucets and other fixtures. Simple leaks can lead to a huge reduction in water usage!
  • Turn the tap off when you aren’t using it, for example, while you’re brushing your teeth, shaving or doing the dishes. You’d be shocked at how much water you use while running the tap.
  • Eat less meat. It’s well accepted that, overall, meat has one of the greatest virtual water contents of all foods.
  • Reuse your ‘grey’ water – for example, instead of draining your sink after doing the dishes, use that water to water your plants. They won’t notice the difference and you’ll use half as much water.

And guess what the added bonus is! Not only will all of these tips save the environment, they’ll save your wallet too. Every one of these tips is bound to lower your water bill in the end.

Readers, what’s your water footprint? How do you conserve water on a day-to-day basis?

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3 thoughts on “What’s Your Water Footprint?

  1. I’m surprised they don’t charge for water usage in BC. They definitely do in Ontario. Charging for water usage is probably the most effective way of instituting a change in the culture of water usage.

  2. Pingback: Save Money on Your Bathroom Remodel | Earth and Money

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