Prodded by environmental consciousness — or penny pinching — you installed low-flow showerheads and fixed all the drippy facets. Knowing that your manicured lawn was sucking down an unnatural amount of water — nearly 7 billion gallons of water is used to irrigate home landscaping, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — you ripped up the turf and replaced it with native plants.

 

You’re still using a lot more water than you think.

 

The drought of 2012 has generated images of parched landscapes and sun-baked lakebeds. At least 36 states are projecting water shortages between now and 2013, according to a survey by the federal General Accounting Office. Water supplies are finite, and fickle.

 

Water, we all know, is essential to life. It is also essential to agriculture, industry, energy and the production of trendy T-shirts. We all use water in ways that go way beyond the kitchen and bathroom. The measure of both direct and indirect water use is known as the water footprint.

 

Your water footprint is the total volume of freshwater used to produce the goods and services consumed, according to the Water Footprint Network, an international nonprofit foundation based in the Netherlands. The Water Footprint Network has crunched the numbers and developed an online calculator to help you determine the size of your footprint.

 

You’ll be astonished to know how much water you’re using … once you’ve converted all those metric measurements into something you can understand.

 

The average American home uses about 260 gallons of water per day, according to the EPA.

 

That quarter-pound burger you just gobbled down? More than 600 gallons of water.

 

That Ramones T-shirt? More than 700 gallons.

 

So, adjustments to your diet and buying habits can have a much greater impact on the size of your water footprint than taking 40-second showers.

 

A pound of beef, for example, takes nearly 1,800 gallons of water to produce, with most of that going to irrigate the grains and grass used to feed the cattle. A pound of chicken demands just 468 gallons. If you really want to save water, eat more goat. A pound of goat requires 127 gallons of water.

 

We’ve been told to cut down on our use of paper to save the forests, but going paperless also saves water. It takes more than 1,300 gallons of water to produce a ream of copy paper.

 

Even getting treated water to your house requires electricity. Letting your faucet run for five minutes, the EPA says, uses about as much energy as burning a 60-watt light bulb for 14 hours. Reducing your water footprint also reduces your carbon footprint, the amount of greenhouse gases your lifestyle contributes to the atmosphere and global warming.

 

So, you could say that conserving water is more than hot air. It’s connected to almost everything you do.

 

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