Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's Your Waterprint?

While there has been a lot of attention paid these days to the containers that we choose for holding our water - see my previous few blogs about plastics for starters - awareness is also starting to grow about the planet's water shortage.

There are currently an estimated 1.1 billion people in the world who lack clean water. Why is this? Is there a shortage of water or just a shortage of wells and a lack of infrastructure for transporting safe, clean water?

The answer is both. Only .03% of the water on Earth is potable, and according to Peter H. Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute, "As many as 76 million people -- mainly children -- will die from preventable, water-related diseases by 2020 even if current United Nations goals are reached."

So what can we do?

  • Help to set up wells and other infrastructures by donating to organizations like Charity: Water and Unicef, which are working to bring clean drinking water to all.
  • Help to conserve the precious drinking water we have left by reducing the water you use every day. Here are a few suggestions about how to do so:
Get Educated about your water footprint - go to H2O Conserve or (Personally, I'm a sucker for the cartoon characters over at H2O Conserve) to calculate your water footprint.

You will be asked questions about where you live, how much of your power comes from solar or wind energy, whether or not you have low-flow devices on your showers, toilets, and faucets, how much laundry you do per week, etc.

While it may turn out that you are indeed a water glutton, take heart because each question serves as a new idea for a way to save more water. For example, not yet letting "it mellow?" Might be time to consider new flushing policies in the household! Post-asparagus voids get an exemption - phieew!

In addition to these standard questions, there are many more that concern your virtual water footprint, one that must be taken into account if you truly want to curb your daily water consumption. According to the recent Discover magazine article "Everything You Know About Water Conservation Is Wrong" by Thomas Kostigen, "Virtual water is a calculation of the water needed for the production of any product from start to finish."

So while it is important to turn off the water while brushing your teeth and to take shorter showers, it is crucial to be mindful of your virtual water consumption. For example, consider all of the virtual water lost in the food we throw out or used in the goods we buy - almost everything takes water to produce.

According to Kostigen's article and, "The virtual water footprint of a cup of coffee is 37 gallons; an apple, 19 gallons; a banana, 27; a slice of bread, 10; a sheet of paper, 3; and a pair of leather shoes, 4,400."

And in the United States, we are really thirsty for our virtual water. Our annual average usage per person is 656,012 gallons, more than double the world average of 328,410 gallons.
So go ahead, install those low-flow shower and faucet heads, buy only what you need, and throw away even less. It will leave a lot more water for all of us to drink.

For more water conservation tips, see "H2O: One Glass at a Time" in this month's Green Guide.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You can also download the free water footprint ap - Waterprint - from itunes.