What is Your Water Footprint?

If any of you are like me, you probably don’t want to know the answer to this question. Based on the adorable duck graphic below, I’m guessing the people at National Geographic knew they’d be dealing with people like me, and so they made the quiz graphically attractive with cutesy cartoons. They win.

Take the quiz here or click on the ducky, and pledge to use less water.

Why is a water footprint important? Mostly because freshwater is not a renewable resource when managed by man (precipitation supplies freshwater ways but WE can’t encourage it or make more of it), no matter how much we manage to delude ourselves. Our eating habits are based solely on the reality of large-scale farming, which, if not done sustainably, dumps thousands of gallons of poisons into local waterways, uses far more water than it should, destroys topsoil (also not a renewable resource), and now faces genetic interference with mono-cropped foods like corn and soy.

As Americans, we use twice the global average of water every *day*. That doesn’t mean we just take long showers or let our sprinklers run too long; our food, clothing, and activities have an impact on our water consumption.

Here’s a snippet of how many gallons of water some common foods (measured in pounds) require to produce, taken from TreeHugger:

Potatoes — 30 gallons
Oranges — 55 gallons
Apples — 83 gallons
Bananas — 102 gallons
Corn — 107 gallons
Peaches or Nectarines — 142 gallons
Wheat Bread — 154 gallons

Now, what’s interesting is when you get to animal products (which makes sense, because animals typically require more water than plants to thrive):

Eggs — 573 gallons
Chicken — 815 gallons
Cheese — 896 gallons
Pork — 1630 gallons
Butter — 2044 gallons
Beef — 2500-5000 gallons

I’d like to mention that this isn’t an advertisement for vegetarianism; I enjoy meat, but believe strongly that the way we raise our meat (in cramped areas, pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, and often being slain in inhumane ways) is not sustainable. It’s also not fair to the animals. I believe that cutting back on our meat consumption contributes to the health of the environment, especially if we could cut out a substantial portion of beef. I don’t have anything against cows, but there are native species better adapted to preserving our environment naturally, like bison and elk. Cows just mow down everything in their paths.

(Here’s a shocking and heartbreaking number: Chocolate — 2847 gallons. CRAP.)

A cotton tshirt may take more than 700 gallons of water. One sheet of paper? 2.5 gallons. You can see how these numbers start adding up. Especially if you’re maintaining gardens, water-wasting lawns, or even houseplants!

Now, again, if you’re curious about your own water footprint, take the test above or this one from H20conserve.org.

Conserving freshwater in all the ways we can isn’t only important to us dirt-worshipping hippies; it’s important because approximately one in eight people in the world lack access to safe water supplies. It’s important because biodiversity is dropping the fastest in freshwater ecosystems. Because at any given time, half of the patients in the world’s hospitals are suffering from diseases associated with a lack of access to safe drinking water. It’s important because we’re wasting it, and as we run out, more people lose their lives.

Your water footprint is also important because you’re probably an American, and the average American consumes more water during a shower than the average person in a developing country slum uses in a whole day.

The types of things that reduce your water footprint can also save you money and help the planet. Shopping at thrift stores, reducing your lawn (and respecting your climate – don’t grow tropical plants in the desert!), using recycled paper instead of virgin paper, installing rain barrels, flushing your pee less and showering less, and reducing how much meat you consume are some ways that I’ve tried.

Here’s 7 more tips from TreeHugger, and these from H20 Conserve, which offers suggestions about the monetary cost of the tips. I hope you’ll get curious about conserving water – in America, we have a great deal of power in water preservation! Even small ways add up. What will you do?



Water.org has a great wealth of information about water use and conservation, including this list of facts. GlobalIssues.org has another good list.

This article talks about putting the water footprint of everyday products on labels.

Discover’s 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Water.


Posted on August 21, 2010, in Connected Living and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This is amazing and depressing. Considering I can’t have an intelligent or creative thought outside a long, hot shower. What to do? Be smelly and boring or clean and idearific, hmmmmm.

  2. Wow a chocolate bar uses that many litres of water? Need to slow down my water footprint!

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