Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's Your "Water Footprint?"

If you're like me and most other Canadians, you probably use - and waste - a lot of water. Coming from the Wet Coast, it's sometimes hard to see water use as a pressing issue. Yet even some parts of Canada experience drought.

The United States may be slow on 'getting' global warming but it's coming to grips with its looming fresh water problem. Even the Wall Street Journal gets it:

Two-thirds of the world's population is projected to face water scarcity by 2025, according to the United Nations. In the U.S., water managers in 36 states anticipate shortages by 2013, a General Accounting Office report shows. Last year, Georgia lawmakers tried, unsuccessfully, to move the state's border north so that Georgia could claim part of the Tennessee River.

Lately, water footprinting has gained currency among corporations seeking to protect their agricultural supply chains and factory operations from future water scarcity. Next week, representatives from about 100 companies, including Nike Inc., PepsiCo Inc., Levi Strauss & Co. and Starbucks Corp., will gather in Miami for a summit on calculating and shrinking corporate water footprints. In December, a coalition of scientists, companies and development agencies launched the Water Footprint Network, an international nonprofit that helps corporations and governments measure and manage their water footprints.
The water-footprint concept was coined in 2002 by Arjen Hoekstra, a professor of water management at University of Twente in the Netherlands. Using data from the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization, Mr. Hoekstra and other researchers gauged the water content that went into the making of various products and applied those statistics to people's consumption patterns to get a rough water footprint for average individuals and nations as a whole.

...A cup of coffee takes roughly 35 gallons. A cotton T-shirt typically takes some 700 gallons of water to produce. A typical hamburger takes 630 gallons of water to produce -- more than three times the amount the average American uses every day for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets. The bulk is used to grow grain for cattle feed.

A large water footprint isn't necessarily bad if the product is made in an area where water is plentiful and well managed. Almost all of the water that goes into crops and food production is returned to the water cycle, either as evaporated water or in the form of polluted runoff. But it is temporarily unavailable for other uses, and may not be restored to the same aquifer, lake or river if it comes back as rainfall in another region. That poses problems for water-scarce areas.

The report notes that industries are beginning to take water supply as a critical consideration in relocation of factories.

For many food and beverage companies, calculating water use isn't just an attempt at an eco-friendly makeover. It's a matter of self-interest. A Coca-Cola bottling plant was shuttered in south India in 2004 after residents claimed the company was depleting and polluting local water supplies. SABMiller PLC -- whose brands include Miller Lite, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell -- invested in water-purification technology for its factory in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where the overuse of groundwater by various industries has caused fresh aquifers to grow increasingly salty. The city's drinking water supply is sufficient for only a third of its three million residents, water aid groups say.

Day by day we're discovering that, for this century at least, water will be the new oil.


Oemissions said...

Maude Barlow has been active on this for years and years.
LA is about to ration and up the user fees. They say increasing the fees worked very well in consumption decrease last big drought.

Unknown said...

i work at water.ca, a couple of points to think about. the ag industry has every reason to use water, after all it feeds us humans, the issue is the run off in a lot of cases is so toxic the water without extreme cleaning is useless for almost anything after the fertilizers are done with it. the issue of the north and water almost is never discussed in the manner it should be, there are i think five countries vying for the water in some way or another up there. then there is consumption and municipal plants , does a soup company pay what the water is worth? does a factory? this is where metering really comes into it, when a cement company is done with the water its unusable as it stands right now. there are consumers yes and we will pay for sure, but its the large industrial users that have to help now, with cleaning the water,conservation of the water. i feel that much onus is on the guy that lives in a condo to use less, but its the industrial players that need to take notice, not just dasani for instance but the entire industrial backbone.

thats vey much
bob brouse

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Bob. Good points, thanks. What's your position on groundwater depletion?

The Mound of Sound said...

Bob, I posted a link to the Schindler interview on your site. Makes you wonder what the Liberal leader is thinking in embracing the Tar Sands.