Photo courtesy of UCSC.edu.
A person’s “water footprint” may sound like a five-toed track along a Great Lakes shoreline, but the term actually connotes a serious environmental consideration. Personal consumption of water is second perhaps only to personal responsibility for carbon emissions in terms of impact on the planet.
“The water footprint measures the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use,” states the Water Footprint Network, a platform for collaboration among companies, organizations, and individuals to solve the world’s water crises by advancing fair and smart water use. “It can be measured for a single process, such as growing rice, for a product, such as a pair of jeans, for the fuel we put in our car, or for an entire multi-national company.”
Why should residents of the Great Lakes region and its abundant freshwater be concerned about their water footprint and take steps to conserve water? Living among water riches does not exempt us from responsible environmental stewardship.
Americans collectively have a monster water footprint, although our per capita footprint has shrunk in recent decades because of productivity improvements. The United States is second only to the United Arab Emirates in gallons of water used per person per day—more than 2,200 gallons.
A 2014 Indiana University survey of 1,020 Americans offered hope for reducing our water footprint. Although the survey showed that respondents underestimated their water use, these perceptions were more accurate than their estimates of energy use. “Well-designed efforts to improve public understanding of household water use could pay large dividends for behavioral adaptation to temporary or long-term decreases in availability of freshwater,” the study’s authors observed.
Americans collectively have a monster water footprint, although our per capita footprint has shrunk in recent decades because of productivity improvements.
Why should residents of the Great Lakes region and its abundant freshwater be concerned about their water footprint and take steps to conserve water? There are multiple reasons. Living among water riches does not exempt us from responsible environmental stewardship. Importantly, water waste in the Great Lakes watershed implies to those outside of the watershed that we have surplus water they can tap. In the long run, protecting the Great Lakes from diversions and exports will require a demonstration that we respect the needs of our home ecosystem—and encourage others to respect those bounds as well.
Calculate your own water footprint—and consider practical suggestions on how you can shrink it—directly and indirectly.