Sunday, March 27, 2011

America's water footprint

We hear a lot about carbon footprints these days, but do you know much about your water footprint?

Our water footprint includes all the water we use for everyday activities, such as washing, and what is used to produce our products, energy, and food.

It is perhaps no surprise that Americans have the biggest water footprint of any other nation. Yemen comes in at the smallest.

This short article from Yes! Magazine reveals the average American's water footprint in comparison with the rest of the world. The numbers are quite troubling.

For example, the average American uses 11.6 gallons a day for showering only. That is the same amount of water the average Bangladeshi uses per day for everything.

 And in the 18.5 gallons we each use to flush our toilets, the average Chinese person has flushed, washed, and everything else in that same day. This makes the adage “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” seem more and more like a good idea.

Also, for the record, the United Nations states that every person needs between five and 13 gallons of water per day to meet our basic needs. This makes Americans’ daily 69.3 gallons seem embarrassingly gluttonous.

I write about this not to make everyone feel guilty. Rather, I think it is important to have this knowledge to put our resource use into perspective and to consider how we can shrink our water footprint in meaningful ways.

Thankfully, Yes! Magazine also provided a few good ideas for how to live within our means and make our water last. A couple examples that seem easy for everyone to do include fixing leaky faucets and supporting organic farming, which can even improve our water supply by boosting the soil's ability to hold water.

Perhaps World Water Day, just like Earth Day, should be every day?


  1. Interesting post, Jenny. I remember watching something on the Discovery Channel one time about how much water we use each day for showering, washing dishes, washing clothes, etc. It's mind boggling!

  2. Thanks for the info, Jenny. Really makes you think about how much water goes down the drain every time you turn the faucet on, doesn't it? And I definitely think "water footprint" should be talked about more often.

  3. I am digging the water posts!

    I just read a book by a UW alum who went to study in Senegal, and was dismayed by how much we *waste* in this country. The sprinkler that some people use to water their grass(and the sidewalk) during the middle of the day, like you said, is equal to - or even more than - the amount that individual in a developping country would use in an entire day. Even the French conserve water during their showers, because water utility costs are so much more expensive in Europe.

    In conclusion, bring on the "military" showers!

  4. I like your posts on water -- a resource we take for granted so often in this country. It does seem to me that in this country, the consequences of water usage vary geographically. For example, I'd guess that a golf course in Arizona has far more environmental impact than one in Madison. Do you agree?

  5. The day will come, sooner than we wish, when we won't take water for granted. This is a terrific easy to read statement on that issue. Completely agree, obviously.