Photograph by Lynn Johnson
Of the less than 1 percent of freshwater available for human use, a whopping 70 percent goes toward growing food and raising animals.
Your diet is probably the biggest slice of your water footprint, especially if you eat meat from cows and other animals fed with water-intensive crops, such as corn. Cutting consumption of animal products in half would reduce the U.S.’s dietary requirements of water by 37 percent. The average U.S. diet currently takes 1,320 gallons (4,997 liters) of water a day to produce.
Food is also a means by which water is moved, or imported and exported, around the world. You may find that the rice you bought today was grown in a dry region of Jordan with the help of highly engineered, but not always very efficient, irrigation systems. For example, northern China annually exports to south China about 1.8 trillion cubic feet (52 billion cubic meters) of water indirectly through foodstuffs and other products.
In areas where food is not taken for granted—often the same areas where droughts and flooding hit the hardest—there are 850 million people annually suffering from malnutrition. As water becomes less accessible, so does food.
- More efficient irrigation practices, such as drip and micro-sprinklers, can reduce the volume of water applied to agricultural fields by 30-70 percent and can increase crop yields by 20-90 percent.
- Drip irrigation is used on less than 2 percent of irrigated land worldwide.
- Reducing U.S. irrigation demands by even 10 percent could free up enough freshwater to meet the new urban and industrial water demands anticipated for 2025.
Did You Know?
It takes 634 gallons (2,400 liters) of water to produce one hamburger, 37 gallons (140 liters) for a cup of coffee, and 1,082 gallons (4,096 liters) to make a cotton t-shirt.
More About Water and Food
Asia's growing appetite for meat threatens the already water-stressed region with severe food shortages, according to scientists.
Find out how much water it really takes to support your lifestyle.
Producing food for billions can take lots of water. Learn more with National Geographic's sustainable agriculture website.
The end of plenty—what is a hot, crowded, and hungry world to do?
Help Save the Colorado River
You can help restore freshwater ecosystems by pledging to cut your water footprint. For every pledge, Change the Course will restore 1,000 gallons back to the Colorado River.
Sandra is a leading authority on international freshwater issues and is spearheading our global freshwater efforts.
He's paddled the Colorado River from its headwaters to the delta in an effort to bring awareness to this mighty river at risk.
For more than 15 years, Osvel Hinojosa Huerta has been resurrecting Mexico's Colorado River Delta wetlands.
Change the Course Infographic
Check out this infographic and learn how you can conserve water and save the Colorado River, as well as other freshwater ecosystems.
Water Currents, by Sandra Postel and Others
Arizona's Verde River gets a boost from an innovative partnership.
Farmers in the Verde River Basin employ new technology to benefit a desert environment.
Funny viral video series hopes to get people thinking about the importance of water.