What is your water footprint?

By Donna Schmitz | May 28, 2014

Several years ago, I was preparing a presentation on water conservation for a Living on the Land workshop. I incorporated the usual facts about how much of the water in the earth is actually potable and how much water is salt water vs freshwater (see the chart below). I discovered reasons why it makes sense to conserve water because we can also save energy, extend the life of septic systems, maintain water levels in groundwater and stream water. Conserving water also means reduced costs to city dwellers. There are many more reasons to conserve water.

97% of water on earth is salt water

In my presentation, I included the typical household water use and various ways to reduce water use. By applying several conservation measures in your home, you can reduce single family water use from 72.5 gallons per capita per day to 49.6 gallons per capita per day. Thirty two percent reduction in water use seemed like a lot to me.

End Water Use in the Home

As I dug deeper in my research on water conservation, I found some interesting information on your ‘indirect water footprint’ which is the water consumption and pollution behind all the goods you buy. Your indirect water footprint is much larger than your direct water footprint at home.

Save water, shower together.

Even though showering with a friend will save water, it took 25 full bathtubs of water to grow the cotton to make this t-shirt.


This saying may be funny to beer drinkers, but it takes 20-66 gallons of water to make one pint of beer.

A typical western man who eats meat, drinks a few beers once in a while and likes dairy products consumes a hundred times his own weight in water every day. If you are a vegetarian, you consume half of that.  It takes 200 gallons to produce one pound of sugar and 330 gallons to produce one pound of rice. It takes over 1300 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef and 500 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. Each person drinks one ton of water per year.  Around the home, each person uses between 50 and 100 tons of water a year.  Growing the crops to feed and clothe a person takes about 1500 to 2000 tons of water a year.

Making the right choices to reduce your water footprint.

Where is all this water coming from? Homegrown crops are watered by local rain and irrigation. Goods like Egyptian cotton and Columbian coffee are imported.  Whenever we buy something grown somewhere else we are influencing the hydrology of those regions. Here is a webpage where you can assess and reduce your “water footprint.” Calculate your water footprint, then consider reducing it.

Pocket Guide to Reducing your Water Footprint

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Corvallis Garden Design by Beth Young © B. Young

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About the Author

Donna Schmitz

Donna has over 25 years of experience in natural resource management. Currently she assists Benton County landowners who seek solutions to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

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