In the past decade, we have seen sophisticated scientific models for understanding our ecological footprint (land resources consumed per capita) and our carbon footprint (CO2 generated per capita) but until now there has not been a single comprehensive model for understanding how a country uses its water resources.  But yesterday, a new measurement tool was launched called the Water Footprint, which breaks down water consumption across residential, agricultural, commercial and industrial uses.

The Water Footprint was developed by Dutch scientists and incorporated into a nonprofit organization called WFN (Water Footprint Network) co-founded by the IFC (International Finance Corporation), UNESCO, the World Wildlife Fund, World Business Council on Sustainable Development in conjunction with the Global Footprint Network, the Nature Conservancy, and other nonprofit organizations. Funding was supplied in part by big water businesses, including Coca Cola, Nestle, and Unilever.

With the recent global economic collapse, water has come to the fore as an issue of national security for many nations. As chief scientist Dr. Arjen Hoekstra explains:

Water problems are often closely tied to the structure of the global economy. Many countries have significantly externalized their water footprint, importing water-intensive goods from elsewhere. This puts pressure on the water resources in the exporting regions, where too often mechanisms for wise water governance and conservation are lacking. Not only governments, but also consumers, businesses and civil society communities can play a role in achieving a better management of water resources.
Not surprisingly the US is the leader in water consumption at 2483 m3 (2.5 million liters or 655,500 gallons) per person per year, which includes the consumption of water-intensive goods produced both domestically and imported (PDF).  The goal is not to malign anybody for their water use, but rather to create a framework for better understanding how and where we use our water.

The Water Footprint also just launched a comprehensive water calculator which gives you an idea where you stand in terms of your personal water consumption relative to the national average. It's clear that we need to find ways to reduce our water impact.  It starts at home -- don't leave the water on when you brush your teeth or shave, don't overwater your lawn or plant water-hogging plants, etc.  But when you look at the biggest culprit, agriculture which currently accounts for 72% of all water use in the US, you realize change will have to happen at a much larger scale.

In order to maintain the current per capita levels of water consumption with a rapidly growing population here in the US, we will need to find ways to reuse water resources like waste water.  Fortunately new technologies are on the way to create purified water from waste water and saltwater.  Check out my post on Porifera, which uses nanotechnology to naturally and efficiently purify water.

First 'water footprint' calculator goes live
The new water footprint calculator gives a fresh perspective on a resource often taken for granted.