How to Reduce Your Water Footprint

Five Methods:Reduce the amount of water used to produce your foodReduce the amount of water used to produce fuel and products by reducing consumptionCreate Water-Saving LandscapingReduce Household Water UseReduce Pollution to Keep Local Water Clean

Fresh water is becoming an increasingly precious commodity, particularly to grow/feed the things we eat. By reducing your personal water footprint, you reduce the rate at which agricultural areas are emptying their aquifers, underground water "batteries" that take hundreds and thousands of years to recharge.

Method 1
Reduce the amount of water used to produce your food

  1. 1
    Avoid luxury ingredients, the things that used to be precious (because they required extraordinary resources). These include caffeine, vanilla, and sugar. For example, a typical cup of cola requires 333 cups of water to produce: a cup of water for the liquid, 165 cups of water for the vanilla flavoring, 100 cups for the caffeine, and 67 cups for the sugar!
  2. 2
    Eat proteins that "save" water and don't eat more than you need. Most people only need 10% of their calories to be protein (USDA recommendation is 5 ounces of meat per day for most individuals).
    • Beef is one of the most "costly" proteins at 1700 cups per ounce, followed by red meats in general.
    • If you eat animal protein, chicken and eggs are best at 250-400 cups per ounce.
    • Tofu and beans also come in around 400 cups per ounce.
  3. 3
    Drink water instead of anything else. Below are some "water footprint" numbers for a cup of common drinks:
    • Water - 1 cup
    • Wine - 125 cups
    • Diet Soda - 200 cups
    • Soda - 265 cups
    • Tea - 275 cups
    • Diet Cola - 290 cups
    • Beer - 300 cups
    • Cola - 333 cups
    • Milk - 600 cups
    • Coffee - 1,100 cups
    • Fruit Juice - 1,200 cups
  4. 4
    Reduce your grains and/or substitute vegetable starches (like potatoes). The popular DASH diet (reduces hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease) recommends just 6 ounces of grains/starch per day, versus the typical food pyramid recommendation of 12 ounces. Below are water footprint numbers for an ounce of various grains or starches (e.g., a slice of bread).
    • Rice - 300 cups
    • Oats - 290 cups
    • Wheat - 220 cups
    • Corn - 150 cups
    • Potatoes - 35 cups
  5. 5
    Fill up with fresh fruits and vegetables! Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. The DASH diet recommends 3 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables per day. Below is the amount of water required to grow 1/2 cup of various raw fruits and vegetables:
    • Spinach - 20 cups
    • Lettuce - 30 cups
    • Watermelon - 35 cups
    • Cabbage - 50 cups
    • Carrots - 50 cups
    • Eggplant - 60 cups
    • Broccoli & Cauliflower - 65 cups
    • Tomatoes - 70 cups
    • Cucumber - 90 cups
    • Onion - 95 cups
    • Peppers - 100 cups
    • Green Beans - 130 cups
    • Berries - 135 cups
    • Apple Chunks - 170 cups
    • Grapes - 185 cups
    • Peas - 190 cups
    • Orange Slices - 210 cups
    • Banana Slices -220 cups
    • Raisins - 600 cups
    • Fruit Juice (4 oz) - 600 cups
    • Asparagus - 605 cups
  6. 6
    Calcium builds bones, and many vegetables contain good amounts of calcium. If looking to milk products for calcium, milk and yogurt use less water per serving than soft cheeses and hard cheeses. Below is the amount of water needed to produce a serving of "milk" for calcium:
    • Soy Milk (8 oz, no sugar or vanilla) - 500 cups
    • Cow Milk (8 oz) - 600 cups
    • Yogurt (8 oz) - 600 cups
    • Cheese (1.5 oz) - 935 cups

Method 2
Reduce the amount of water used to produce fuel and products by reducing consumption

  1. 1
    Reduce the amount of fuel you use for travel, whenever possible. A good guide is reducing your carbon footprint, since that carbon is fundamentally produced by plants that have been converted into fuel and "burned."
    • Use transit rather than dedicated vehicles.
    • Use bus or train instead of planes.
    • Teleconference instead of gathering folks for face-to-face meetings.
    • Telecommute.
    • Bike rather than drive.
    • Walk.
  2. 2
    Eat seasonally-available food from local growers, rather than flying or shipping food from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
  3. 3
    Reduce heating/cooling costs by increasing insulation, setting your thermostat to save fuel, and otherwise "saving money" by reducing energy use.
  4. 4
    Reduce the fuel used to create new products by buying quality which is expected to last longer.
  5. 5
    A single sheet of paper requires 160 cups of water to produce! Recycle paper and purchase products made from recycled paper.
  6. 6
    Minimize use of paper products:
    • Use one paper towel to dry hands (there's even a TED lecture on how to do this).
    • When at home, use regular dishes instead of paper.
    • Consider installing a Japanese-style bidet toilet or using a spray bottle bidet, as it takes far less paper to dry off your rinsed privates than it takes to wipe smeared waste off your skin.

Method 3
Create Water-Saving Landscaping

  1. 1
    As much as 50% of water directly used by homeowners goes to maintaining traditional yards and gardens. Invest in a yard that uses minimal water to maintain. Various steps include:
    • Plant strains of grass that don't require much water.
    • Use irrigation techniques that deliver water directly to particular plants.
    • Plant native species that are adapted to local water supplies.
    • Consult with your local nursery on xeriscaping designs.
  2. 2
    Water only when local weather hasn't provided adequate rain for your yard/garden.
  3. 3
    Use mulch to retain water.
  4. 4
    Use rainwater and household gray water to irrigate your yard.
  5. 5
    Use sub-irrigated raised bed gardens (for example wicking beds, global buckets, Olla irrigation, and Earth box planters).
  6. 6
    Use gardening techniques that recirculate water, such as hydroponics and aquaponics.

Method 4
Reduce Household Water Use

  1. 1
    After getting you brush or hands wet, turn the water off when you are actually brushing your teeth or washing your hands.
  2. 2
    Wash your clothing when necessary, but not more often. You can use a valet brush and a damp rag to keep clothing sharp between washings, and less frequent washings help clothing last longer.
  3. 3
    Install water-saving appliances.
  4. 4
    Fix leaks.
  5. 5
    Use a dishwasher rather than washing dishes by hand.
  6. 6
    Install a dual-flush knob, to minimize the amount of water used per flush unless "needed."
  7. 7
    Insulate your water heater and your hot water pipes. This reduces the amount of water you need to "waste" before your faucet or shower head is providing warm/hot water.
  8. 8
    Install a composting toilet.

Method 5
Reduce Pollution to Keep Local Water Clean

  1. 1
    Minimize use of fertilizers where not required. The nitrate and phosphorus from even organic fertilizers leaches into local water ways, causing algae blooms, killing local wildlife, and requiring "fresh water" be added to dilute the pollutants so it can become "clean" again for human consumption.
  2. 2
    Avoid food grown using chemical pesticides. Fresh water must be "added" to bring water contaminated by pesticides back to clean water standards.
  3. 3
    Avoid food grown using chemical herbicides, such as GMO foods that can be "safely" sprayed with herbicides throughout the growing cycle. Again, fresh water must be "added" to dilute the herbicides to make local water source water meet clean water standards.


  • The amount of fresh water available for human use is 860 gallons per day per person, of which 800 gallons is used to grow food.
  • Americans consume foods that require 2055 gallons per day per person, 150% more than the average daily amount available per person globally.
  • The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites have measured massive loss of water from aquifers under agricultural areas around the globe since the satellites were launched in 2002.
  • The Western United States has lost huge amounts of water due to drought and depletion of aquifers. This loss make the land "less dense," causing it to rise. Analysis of precise GPS measurements by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego indicates the west has lost 63 trillion gallons of water, enough water to produce food for everyone in America for 7 months at 2055 gallons per person per day.
  • Aquifers were created over thousands of years, and will not be replenished by a few rainy days. For example, certain zones of the Ogallala aquifer have already been depleted, and it is estimated that these zones would take 6000 years to be replenished naturally through rainfall.
  • The countries that have the largest net import of "virtual" water in the form of products from other nations are: Japan, Mexico, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom. 80-90% of this virtual water is in the form of food.

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Categories: Environmental Awareness