What is virtual water?

When we think of water consumption, it’s usually what we use directly; for example, watering the lawn, taking a shower or flushing a toilet. Most of us use plenty as it is.

What about the water that has been used to produce the goods and services we consume? – that’s what’s known as virtual water or embodied, embedded, hidden water, or water footprint.

The concept of virtual water explains why in some studies you may see figures for per capita water consumption that seem incredibly high. The World Water Council has these amazing statistics based on various diets:

survival diet – 264 gallons
vegetarian diet – 686 gallons
USA meat-based diet – 1320 gallons

… and that’s not per week – it’s per day! To grow a pound of wheat requires around 130 gallons of water. For meat, depending on the type – multiply that by five to ten times. Then add in stuff like the water that goes into making our TV’s and other gadgets, cars, clothes etc. etc.; the figures are staggering. At least 925 gallons (around 3,500 litres) are required to produce a single pound of cotton.

While the majority of our planet is covered by water, very little of it is potable – suitable for drinking. While drinking water can be extracted from seawater and even sewage; these are energy intensive processes using up other planetary resources. We really need to be more conscious of how we use this precious liquid.

Learn more about virtual water at Water Footprint

Pick up some simple water saving tips