Do any of you really know how much water you use on a daily (monthly, annual) basis? I don’t. And, I should. I’m a water expert. It’s not that I don’t know anything about my water usage. In fact, I probably know more than most. I pay attention to my municipal water bills. I understand my household use varies from a respectable 2,000 to an incomprehensible 30,000 gallons per month, depending upon whether or not my husband and I are irrigating our yard and vegetable gardens. I know I shut the water off while I’m brushing my teeth and that I let the yellow mellow. Yet, our municipal water meter reads in less-than-helpful increments of 1,000 gallons. Thus, I can’t really tell you if we’re using 2,001 or 2,999 gallons per month. And, I have no idea how many gallons I’m using each time a take a long, piping hot shower, nor how much water our old laundry machine uses.
I do know that even more problematic is my larger water footprint. Some of you might be asking “What’s a water footprint?” It’s the water used to produce the goods and services we consume – the total volume of the “virtual water” embodied in each and every product we use. So, my personal water footprint is the total of all water used to produce the food, beverages, household and personal hygiene products, electronics, and all other products I consume. Given that my cherished cup of morning coffee requires 37 gallons of Brazilian water to produce and process, and my favorite pair of jeans more than 2,600 gallons, I know the picture is not pretty. Just how unattractive it is, I don’t know. The water footprint of each American is approximately 2,483 cubic meters per year (or fully two times the global average), with 19% of that footprint experienced outside the U.S. (i.e., by the cotton farmers in India who produced the raw materials for my jeans). (Just so we’re all on the same page here, this is equivalent to 655,939 gallons per year or 54,662 gallons per month, clearly dwarfing my direct household water use by almost a factor of three during the irrigation season and by an order of magnitude outside the irrigation season.) Yet, because my husband and I tend to live fairly low on the food chain — reducing, reusing and recycling to some currently-unquantified extent, growing our own organic vegetables in the summer, buying locally, again to some currently-unquantified extent, and in my case, teetering on the edge of vegetarianism – I suspect that my water footprint is below the U.S. average, but I can’t be sure. Nor do I know where my biggest infractions, and therefore, most promising places for improvement lie. But I will. I am setting out to change all this. Stay tuned.