So you are starting to grasp the concept of carbon footprints and they come up with another – the water footprint! In January this was the subject of our discussion group which you can find more about at Events on www.birminghamfoe.org.uk.
So what are water footprints all about? They tells us consumers the amount of precious H2O that has been used in the manufacture of food and consumer products. As with carbon footprints, a “virtual water” figure will indicate the extent to which a particular product has cost the earth.
140 litres for coffee,
30 litres for tea
75 litres for 250 ml (half pint) of beer
Beef 15,500 litres of water, includes water drunk, general upkeep and water used to produce grain.
Goat meat 4,000 litres
Chicken comes in at 3,900
Rice is about 3,400 litres
Wheat 1,300 litres
Quoted from www.waterfootprint.org
And it doesn’t stop there; there are items like cotton that are really water intensive. To produce 1 kg of cotton it takes 11,000 litres, which works out at about 2,700 litres for 1 cotton shirt. This includes irrigation water (including evaporated water) and processing. Water use for cotton production has major impacts on the environment. Particularly intensive irrigation schemes can have disastrous effects, such as the desiccation of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan.
The Aral Sea was once the world’s forth largest body of inland water, but it has shrunk to just 15% of its former volume. Its salinity has risen by almost 600% and so all native fish have gone. This is closely linked to Uzbekistan’s cotton irrigation systems which draw water from the region’s two major rivers. Together these giant waterways once carried more water than the Nile. However, with water being drawn off for cotton production, the volume of the water now reaching the Aral Sea has declined substantially. And there are many more examples of the demand put on water systems, which are creating havoc in ecosystems.
Experts are now talking of fresh water as “the new oil”, a finite resource that is running out in some areas, so people really need to start thinking about their water footprint to help water security around the world. Find out more at www.waterfootprint.org.