Often when we think about how we use water, we focus on our direct use. For instance, do we take a short shower and turn off the water when we are shaving or brushing our teeth? Are our showerheads, toilets, dishwashers, washing machines, etc. water efficient? These considerations are certainly important. Each person needs between 13 and 52 gallons of water per day for washing, sanitation and other household needs. Yet in North America, we use about 400 liters (106 gallons) of water per person a day while in SubSaharan Africa, personal use is only about 10 to 20 liters (2.5 to 5 gallons) of water per person per day. The good news is that per person use has been decreasing in North America and Europe. (Source) By making small changes, we can use less water. For example, by simply turning the water off while brushing our teeth, we can save up to 8 gallons a day.
Yet we also use water indirectly in many other ways in our daily lives. Each person needs between two and five liters of water to drink a day, but did you know that it takes between 2,000 and 5,000 liters (528 to 1,320 gallons) of water to produce one person’s daily food? (Source) In fact, if everybody ate a typical U.S. diet, we’d need about 75% more water to produce the food! While our food choices affect how much water we use indirectly, our “water footprint” is also influenced by where certain foods are produced. The same food product can require very different amounts of water depending on where it is grown or produced. For instance, worldwide, it takes an average of about 146 gallons of water to produce one pound of corn, but in the USA it is typically much lower (91 gallons) while in India, it is much higher (305 gallons).
In addition to our food, we also use water indirectly through our clothing. As an example, it takes nearly 1,200 gallons of water to produce one pound of cotton. That means that it takes about 660 gallons of water to make a t-shirt and over 2,000 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans. Learn more about your “water footprint” at www.waterfootprint.org.