What’s your water footprint?

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You’ve probably heard of a “carbon footprint,” but how about a “water footprint?”

That’s what waterfootprint.org wants to know. The Netherlands-based conservation site has created a way to calculate not just how much water comes out of your tap, but how much water has been used to raise the food you eat, produce the paper you use and create the clothes you wear.

According to the site, the United States has a water footprint of 2,840 cubic meters (that’s 750,248.625 gallons!) per year per person. The site goes on to say that about 20% of this water footprint is external, with much of it coming from the Yangtze river basin in China.

An article by wateronline.com states that “climate change and population growth are expected to combine to exert critical barriers to commercial production as more regions become classified as water-scarce and water-stressed. Globally, water demand is expected to outstrip availability by a staggering 40% by 2030.”

The numbers are sobering, to say the least. It’s critical that we realize not only how we affect our own water supplies, but those of other countries as well. The Water Footprint Network aims to help us do just that by creating a better understanding of consumption and its effects by breaking down water use into three color codes: blue, green and grey. Water from surface sources and aquifers is classified as blue, evaporative flows or rainwater that’s stored in the soil is green, and bodies of water affected by pollution are gray.

Most of the consumables we take for granted have an impact on all three categories. For instance, WFN calculates that the production of about 2 pounds of beef requires approximately 3,962 gallons of water: 93% green, 4% blue, 3% gray. The numbers vary based on factors such as where and how the beef was raised, where the feed comes from, and how it was produced.

So what’s your water footprint? Are you using more than your “share,” or are you helping to conserve this precious resource? The WFN Web site has some handy tips on how to reduce your usage, and two calculators — a quick version and an extended version — to give you an idea of just how big your footprint is. The results may surprise you.