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Our Daily Water Footprint

Arie Regev of the Israel Association of Agricultural Journalists shared this article on water footprint—a topic of great interest to Israeli journalists and their colleagues who visit the arid nation. The article also contains a link to an informative infographic. Arie’s contact at Netafim—whose CSO wrote the article—says these messages have been presented to hundreds of journalists over the years. 

There is also a set of links at the end of the essay to more English-language articles on water footprint. 

We hope this provides an interesting perspective on an important topic.

Since 1993 the United Nations marks World Water Day on. March 22 to promote public awareness to the importance of water and conservation of water resources. Yet the world is squandering this most valuable resource. But as billions of people globally face water scarcity and hundreds of millions suffer of malnutrition, one nation has reached a sufficient water supply. Israel is one of the world’s smallest countries, yet it has some of the biggest desalination plants and the highest rate of waste-water recycling – over 80 per cent, compared with just 5 per cent in the USA. 

As images from space show the rest of the Middle East region is getting drier year by year, Israel is reclaiming the desert, thus enabling to grow water-intensive vegetables, supplying by micro-irrigation means plant roots drop by drop, and developing the “almost too good to be true” Water-Gen that literally makes water out of fresh air.  

Israel, among the highest of the world’s nations as to startups per capita, exports $2bn of water technology every year. It has proved it can effectively manage its own supplies – the challenge now is to sustainably water the rest of the planet.

Let’s pause to understand our water consumption and think about what we can do to make a difference by using water more wisely.  

Is our water usage as smart as it can be?

Did you know that the average person uses 5,500 liters of water a day?

Isn’t that hard to believe? Yes, we do consume that much water. And given the fact that nearly 2.1 billion people still lack access to safe water – we need to ask ourselves whether our water usage is as smart as can be. This is because water is a renewable but finite resource. As such, understanding our water consumption can help us solve one of the most pressing problems we face today.

Let’s Calculate Our Daily Water Footprint

Let’s discover our daily water footprint. A hot shower is the typical start of our day.  But even a quick shower amounts to approximately 9 liters of water per minute going down the drain. Even a five-minute shower uses just 45 liters of water.

Next, when we throw on our favorite pair of jeans and t-shirt, we may not realize that there is a water footprint in getting dressed. It takes almost 8,000 liters of water to produce a pair of jeans, and another 2,700 liters of water to produce a t-shirt. If we divide the total amount by 365 days (considering that it lasts a year), it adds only another 29 liters to the staggering amount of water used. You haven’t even left your bedroom and your daily water footprint is already 74 liters.

Even the food we eat has a hidden water footprint. For every 200 ml of milk, 200 liters of water were used to produce it. Drinking just one cup of coffee with a quarter cup of milk has upped our water count by another 50 liters. It’s not yet 9 AM, and our daily water footprint’s already starting to add up – to 124 liters!

What about the car we drive to work? Your car consumes water as well. It takes about 454,000 liters of water to produce a small car. And each time you fill up a car’s 60-liter (16-gallon) gas tank, your vehicle consumes a whopping 10,860 liters (2,869 gallons). Over a five-year period, your car consumes 49 liters a day in production water, and another 775 liters (in gas production) a day –-based on filling 60-liter tank every two weeks. Your daily water footprint has now reached 948 liters.

At the office, we may drink 1.5 liters of water, plus two cups of coffee – another 50 liters.  And the food we eat? An apple or a sandwich? Did you know that it takes 70 liters of water to grow just a single apple and 40 liters of water to grow, harvest and prepare each slice of bread? Your water consumption during the day bumps up your daily footprint to 1149.5 liters.

When it’s time to call it a day, we might stop at our favorite Chinese restaurant for a beef-fried rice takeout on the way home. It takes almost 3,400 liters of water to produce a kilo of rice, of which a 150-gram portion equals to 510 liters of water. It takes another 15,000 liters of water to produce a kg of beef, and a 250-gram portion of it is equal to drinking 3,750 liters of water. If we have a glass of beer with it — that’s another 75 liters of water. Your current total: 5,484.5 liters.

Leaving the water running while we brush our teeth adds another 15 liters. So, what did we discover?  The average person’s lifestyle is kept afloat by over 5,500 liters of water a day. Our water footprint reveals the true cost of our lifestyle and how water-intensive it is.

Save water, save the world

We eat water, drink water, wear water and travel on water. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Do you know that agriculture has the greatest impact on our water footprint? To feed a planet of 9 billion people in 2050, we will need to increase agricultural production by 50% – and save as much water as possible.

How can we ensure that everyone has access to safe water?

Looking for ways to conserve water? On an individual level, we can take quicker showers, turn off the faucet while brushing our teeth or washing dishes, save on laundry when items are clean and smell fresh, take public transportation (or even better, bike or walk), and set timers to turn on and off garden watering systems. But this is not enough.

Because agriculture is responsible for the bulk of the world’s water consumption, the agriculture industry must take responsibility and ensure that the global water footprint remains as low as possible. That’s where precision irrigation comes into play, by focusing on the precise use and conservation of water.

Precision irrigation is helping shrink agriculture’s water footprint by ensuring every crop gets the metered water it needs, gradually and sparingly. In the USA, precision irrigation has enabled us to save 25% on the water used to produce cotton and 38% on corn, while increasing their yields – 87% in corn, 33% in cotton. It’s time we start thinking about conserving water, a drop at a time! 

By Natan Barak, Chief Sustainability Officer at Netafim

Click here to see how much water we use in a day

For further relevant readings note the following links to news articles: