Thursday, January 30, 2014

Water Footprint (Fin Print?)

Water-wise "Hugelkulture" terraces planted with a Poluculture including Strawberries

This year, members of our household used an average of 26.5 gallons of water per day each.

Just imagine emptying 25 gallon jugs of water, or transporting them from the store in the car!

And yet, several sources, including the EPA, tell me that the average American uses 100 gallons of water per day at home (including outdoor water use, like lawn/garden.) Ironically, Michigan, a relatively wet state with plentiful rain fall, is one of the heaviest water users per capita. Yet another proof of Jevon's Paradox, that Michigan's plentiful supply produces plentiful waste, and that a reduction in demand does not create a reduction in use.

So, for Americans, our baseline starting point is "ok." Especially when you consider that we maintain a very large organic garden with that water use.

But it's hard to imagine that 26 gallons a day is "good." We could use a challenge... and a goal to set. I'm certain we'll reduce our water use over this next year, but I would like to know what "good" actually is. Our current use puts us in line with averages in the UK, Germany or the Philippines.

Does anyone know of any homes that are beating us? Or projections of what our aquifer can sustain? What would be a "good" rate of water use?


  1. At some point in the future, it is a dream of mine to capture and store all of my domestic water from rainfall on the house/land in large storage vessels (cistern, ponds, etc.), i.e. not tapping into the aquifer at all. This is more difficult in a climate with our severe winters, as keeping it from freezing is an additional logistical hurdle, but I think it can be done. There are millions of people around the world doing this in harsher environments than ours, and with very little capital.

    I often wonder what right I have to extract "fossil water" from far beneath the ground. I think living within our annual rainfall budget, or as close to it as possible, is an admirable goal, and I'd like to see more creative projects happening locally toward that end.

  2. Yeah, PJ, I agree. At some scale, as individuals, as families, as towns... we need to form "closed loops" with our resource consumption. The challenge is finding the right scale at which to close the loop. There are amazing efficiencies that come with living in groups, as families, as towns... Living in an urban environment allows us to drastically cut our current ecological impact and carbon footprint, to share resources more easily, including energy, food and heat. But that comes with trade-offs. It would be difficult for us to source all our water from rain collection (at our current usage levels) at our house. And still, it would be FAR easier for us than it would for 99% of our urban neighbors.

    An even bigger "water" problem for urbanites is what to do with all our poo. Right now, of course, we put it into our water, which is basically something insane people would do. But it's very difficult to address both these problems at the individual our household level within cities. But I do do think that these problems can be addressed ethically and efficiently at the city level. Imagine all the high-quality fertlizer that could be harvested from our cities! This "waste" could help close budget gaps and pay for needed infrastructure....

    Of course, that's the ethical side. From the resilience side, West Virginia has shown the folly of relying totally on our broken system for your water.

    We're certainly making plans to collect and store enough rain water to meet our minimum needs should that system fail us as it has out east.