My Journey with Water Footprint Calculators: Useful tools or totally inaccurate?

To analyze my water footprint, I used 6 different water foot-print calculators ranging from “short” calculators to ones that were pretty detailed. According to these calculators, my daily water consumption ranged from 200 to 1000 gallons of water a day, and two of them both said I used exactly 595 gallons of water a day. Well, 200 and 1000 gallons of water a day are a huge difference, but for the purposes of reflecting on my water footprint, I will assume I used 595 gallons a day since two of the calculators came to that figure, and it is close to the middle of 200 and 1000. If I add up and average these results, I use on average 672 gallons of water a day, or 243,353 gallons a year. Whoa! 600 gallons of water is like this fish tank TIMES 6!!

I try to be environmentally conscious, but when looking at how huge my water footprint is, I feel as if I am not doing enough at all to reduce my impact on the planet. Ever since I was about 10 I’ve had the idea of “Leave No Trace” taught to me through camping experiences. I love the idea of “Leave No Trace”, but knowing that my carbon footprint and water footprint is so large, it makes me feel as if I am going out into the woods and dumping trash and cutting down trees, even though I’m not. Knowing I consume about 600 gallons of water a day scares me! Where the heck is all that water coming from? People in other countries use only a fraction of that water per day, but it is often not by choice. Often those people just don’t have access to clean water and, due to poverty, consume very little resources. But is it entirely my choice as well to consume the amount I do?

I was raised as an urban upper-middle class American by my average American parents. Water flowed freely from faucets and I was brought up to use as much of it as I wanted because it “pretty much costs nothing”. I was never taught about the environmental costs of a gallon of water until I was older, and by then I already had my habits of consumption ingrained very deeply.  Ever since I was about 16 and I really wanted to make a difference for the environment as a whole, I’ve tried to reduce my consumption greatly, but society makes this so hard. For example: One way I can greatly reduce my carbon and water footprint is to stop buying new clothes. For the last few years I have bought a lot of clothing second hand, because I know that just one cotton t-shirt requires 2700 liters (this nalgene is just ONE liter)of water to produce. If I really wanted to be conscious I would stop buying new clothes together, and wear what I already have even if the clothes might be a little ragged or completely out of style, but then I think people (society) would judge me. We all want to be accepted, and to be accepted and considered “normal” in this society, we must consume what everyone else expects us to consume and on a regular basis. Gandhi said, “you must be the change you want to see in the world”, but is the average American girl, like me, going to stop showering and wearing fashionable clothing? Probably not. I feel as if every time I push towards living a more sustainable life, society pushes me back. American society must change as a whole, and I think that a growing awareness of environmental issues we face today, such as the immense stress  that is placed on world water supplies, could really help. Even though I do not think water footprint calculators are completely accurate, I do believe they are an invaluable tool for awareness and self-reflection.

I think it is incredibly important to know what your water foot-print is, even if you find it out from an online calculator. When someone thinks about how much water they use per day they probably think, “Well, I drank a few glasses of water, did my laundry, took a shower, flushed the toilet and washed my hands. That can’t be too much, right?” What I would have to say to that is “Well, there is a lot more than just those factors which determine how much water you consume a day! Try out a water usage calculator, and you will see!” Before I became aware of the many environmental issues we face in our world today, I never realized how much of an impact I have indirectly on the environment. The food you eat each day and the products you buy are two really important factors to consider when calculating a water footprint. It is important for people to know that everything they consume, including food and material goods, has its own water footprint, which feeds directly into their own. If everyone knew that it takes as much as 2,500 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef, or that producing one cup of coffee takes 100 more gallons of water than one cup of tea, maybe they would reconsider their consumption habits. But we do have to remember that we are creatures of habit, and I personally have yet to replace my morning coffee with tea.

At least there already is a growing awareness of this concept of a “water footprint”. Even Facebook has their own water footprint application, and this is great because billions of people use Facebook and its applications every day. But I do not trust water footprint calculators give an accurate figure on the number of gallons of water I consume per day, especially since I got so many different results from the calculators. I think this is because there are just too many factors which go into finding the correct number. One of the problems with my own water usage calculations, is that I am living in a dormitory and eat almost all my meals in a cafeteria. This means I don’t cook or wash my own dishes, clean the bathroom, or choose what type of energy is used to heat the buildings or provide electricity. I looked for a calculator which asked what type of living space you occupy, as this can vary from apartments to single family homes. So how do I get an accurate number? If I measured out exactly how many ounces of grain and vegetables I eat a day and accounted for every last piece of clothing or product I buy, and then figured out the water footprints for those, and then figured out how much water is used to create the energy I consume, maybe I could get a pretty accurate figure. But this would be so hard and tedious and really have no point. The important thing to know is where the majority of my water consumption comes from, and then try to make changes there. I really liked the water footprint calculator from National Geographic

http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/water-footprint-calculator/

because it tells you exactly where all your water consumption is coming from, and then the totals. A cute little duck guides you through the interactive calculator, and each time you answer a new question there is a caption above it which explains why they are asking that question. For example they ask how much poultry you consume, and explain that they are asking this because one pound of poultry requires about 1,600 gallons of water to make. If the average Joe uses this five minute calculation, he can learn a lot of facts about water consumption, and then become more aware! It even has numerous tips for ways to reduce your level of water consumption. This calculator said I used 1300 gallons of water per day, which is below the average American. The reason I am below average is that I am a vegetarian. Interestingly enough, I became a vegetarian to try and lessen my impact on the environment. I’m glad it works! Looking at the results from these calculators, I would say the most important questions they ask include how much meat and food you consume, how much water you consume by showering and doing laundry, etc, and how much money you spend on goods each year. The amount of money you spend each year is very important because it allows the calculator to estimate the amount of water you are consuming indirectly through consumerism, by say buying the latest pair of true religion jeans.

Now that I know my water footprint, I am going to try and eat less dairy and continue shopping at second-hand stores (where I have found pairs of true religion jeans for a third of the original price). I’m going to post the national geographic water footprint calculator on my Facebook so hopefully some of my friends will take it, and I can spread awareness!

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