What’s Behind the Coming Water Crisis?

arjen quoteWater crisis are the biggest global risk we face between now and 2025 according to World Economic Forum.

Water scarcity isn’t just about water to drink and grow food but water to produce energy, to provide materials for housing, water for clothes, paper, cars, electronics and everything else.

When I talk about how we need water to make anything in schools, I ask the kids to use their water vision to find something that doesn’t need water to make. No one has succeeded yet.

When it comes to water scarcity the ‘rhino in the room’ is the ocean-sized consumption of hidden or virtual water consumed to grow food and make stuff.

On average North Americans have a water footprint of 8000 litres of water per person per day. Carrying that amount water would be like hauling 5 or 6 cars every day.

Of this 8000 litres (2,000 gallons), only 300 to 400 l of this is comes out of our taps for drinking, washing, cooking or flushing. The rest — the 7500 l is hidden in for the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the things we buy.
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This hidden water is also called virtual water. It is the water consumed to grow things or make stuff. By consumed I mean that 7500 we consume each day is water that can’t be used for anything else. This is water that evaporated, remains polluted or cannot be reused in a reasonable time frame.

— Excerpt from 2016 presentation based on the award-winning book Your Water Footprint by Stephen Leahy.

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YWF’s Water-Saving Tips of the Week

In the Bathroom

  • Check for toilet leaks by adding food coloring to the tank.  If the toilet is leaking, color will appear in the bowl within 30 minutes. (Flush as soon as test is done, since the food coloring may stain.) Check for worn-out, corroded or bent parts. Most replacement parts are inexpensive, readily available and easily installed.

In the Mall

  • Consider secondhand clothing.  It takes a whopping 2,900 liters (766 gallons) to make a plain cotton shirt! You can achieve big reductions in your water footprint by buying clothes secondhand or by wearing polyester, which requires much less water
    to produce.

About Your Daily Water Footprint of 8000 l (2100 gal) YWF graphic -YWF electricity

We don’t realize our societies run on water not oil. There is no electricity or gasoline without water. Nothing can be manufactured without water.  The critically-acclaimed book Your Water Footprint (YWF), uses info graphics to reveal the enormous quantities of water that are used to make the clothes we wear, the electronic devices we use and the food we eat.

On average our water footprint amounts to 8,000 litres (2100 gal) of water each day. This is the net amount, water that can’t be reused.

Water-wise choices is all about smart substitutions and changes in habits.

 

Your Water Footprint:  The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Product

Winner, Best Science Book in Canada; First Place Green Book Festival, NYC

 160 Pages, 125 Unique Infographics, only $19.95 Paperback   Order today

 (Now available on Kindle)

Book Critics Love “Your Water Footprint” – Winner, Best Science Book

YWF smartphone

“…a brilliant and shocking exposé on
precisely how much water we use…”
 — Publishers Weekly

“This book is unique in its handling of a complex topic…the content is timely, important, and fascinating” — Library Journal

…exceptionally lucid narration with arresting, full-page info graphics”  — Booklist,  starred review

“Leahy, an award-winning Ontario environmental journalist… makes it clear that the most innocent-seeming actions and products are far from water-neutral. — Toronto Star

“Leahy drops a tsunami of sobering facts and infographics on the heads of readers who take what comes out of their faucets for granted.” — Kirkus Reviews

Journalist Stephen Leahy’s new book about water footprints is a great introduction to the mysterious world of virtual water — EcoCentric

“… answers on our water consumption pour forth in this entertaining and extremely well illustrated book…” — Harvest H20

“Readers will find the information, which is presented in an infographiclike style, easy to understand and to act upon. While the introduction and conclusion expertly unpack the complex issue of water use, the images and large text in the body of the book seem to be geared toward younger readers. However, this book is unique in its handling of a complex topic and is unlike other texts on the subject — C Library Journal

For kids and classrooms too!

“Leahy’s straightforward, teen-friendly explanations and clever, compelling visuals constitute an ideal introduction to the urgent facts about water.”  —Booklist Review

“With exceptionally clear and informative prose and an abundance of well-designed infographics, this book presents the shocking facts about our water usage…. Leahy helps readers understand the nature of the problem by highlighting what is important to know about our global, national, and local water consumption and why… — School Library Journal

“Stephen Leahy’s visual book, full of facts, figures and pictures helps the reader understand just how much water we use every day in ways we often don’t realize.  This fact-packed book would be a welcome addition to any educator’s water resource library and is most suitable for students in grades 4 and up.  — Stacey Widenhofer Green Teacher 2015-06-23

“… the skillfully depicted infographics and mind-boggling facts make Your Water Footprint a must-buy for middle and high school libraries. What sets this book apart is that there is thorough discussion about the world of hidden water, or the water used in the manufacturing industry, including smartphones, clothing, and even the production of household items like televisions.  Common Core Standards are most definitely met in this text, making it a sound book to be used in the classroom, as well as for recreational reading. — Stephanie Wilke VOYA 2015-12-01

“Leahy ha producido un libro de alto valor didáctico, ampliamente ilustrado con imágenes y gráficos”  — Cambio Climatico Bolivia   (Leahy has produced a book of high educational value, amply illustrated with pictures and graphics)

Water Footprint of Beef

Your Water Footprint:

The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products

 Order today   160 Pages, 125 Unique Infographics, only $19.95 Paperback  

 (Also avail in hardcover)

World Water Day: The cost of cotton exports in water-challenged India

Women and children gather water from pumps in India

 More than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water. Severe water scarcity in India is exacerbated by the cotton industry. Concerns are high, but are businesses, consumers and government doing enough?

Virtual water

Cotton is by no means India’s largest export commodity – petroleum products followed by gems and jewellery follow closely behind. All of these exports require water to produce, and the quantities needed are staggering. Not only does it take water to grow anything, it also takes water to make anything: cars, furniture, books, electronics, buildings, jewellery, toys and even electricity. This water that goes largely unseen is called virtual water.

What’s easy to forget is that virtual water is as real as the water you drink. Producing 1kg of cotton in India consumes 22,500 litres of water, on average, according to research done by the Water Footprint Network. In other words, this 22,500 litres of water cannot be used for anything else because it has either evaporated or is too contaminated for reuse.

By exporting more than 7.5m bales of cotton in 2013, India also exported about 38bn cubic metres of virtual water. Those 38bn cubic metres consumed in production of all that cotton weren’t used for anything else. Yet, this amount of water would more than meet the daily needs of 85% of India’s vast population for a year.

Doing things differently

Cotton doesn’t usually consume this much water. The global average water footprint for 1kg of cotton is 10,000 litres. Even with irrigation, US cotton uses just 8,000 litres per kg. The far higher water footprint for India’s cotton is due to inefficient water use and high rates of water pollution — about 50% of all pesticides used (pdf) in the country are in cotton production.

Most of India’s cotton is grown in drier regions and the government subsidises the costs of farmers’ electric pumps, placing no limits on the volumes of groundwater extracted at little or no cost. This has created a widespread pattern of unsustainable water use and strained electrical grids.

Recent reports show that India’s water consumption is far too high. In 54% of the country 40 to 80% of annually available surface water is used. To be sustainable, consumption should be no more than 20% in humid zones and 5% in dry areas, to maintain the ecological function of rivers and wetlands, experts say (pdf).

India’s extensive groundwater resources are also rapidly being depleted, with 58% of wells in the drier north-west India experiencing declining water levels. By 2030 demand will outstrip supply by 50%, according to the World Resources Institute.

“India’s water problems are well-known in the country and pollution is everywhere. Disagreement lies in the solutions,” says Arjen Hoekstra, professor in water management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

The new Indian government’s solution to the spectre of growing severe water scarcity is the $168bn (£113bn) National River Linking Project, which will link 30 rivers with 15,000km of canals. This will transfer 137bn cubic metres of water annually from wetter regions to drier ones. However, the country exports far more water than that, in the form of virtual water, in cotton, sugar, cereals, motor vehicles and its many other exports.

Faltering forward

All of these exports could be produced using far less water, says Hoekstra, who pioneered the water footprint concept. “It’s not just improving water efficiency that could dramatically reduce India’s water consumption, it’s growing and producing things in the right place,” he said.

Most of India’s water-rich crops such as cereals and cotton are grown in the dry states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, which have very high evaporation rates, unlike wet states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. This perverse situation greatly exacerbates India’s water problems and is largely the result of government policies, Hoekstra’s 2009 study (pdf) states.

“There’s a lot of concern about water scarcity, but little interest in changing consumption patterns,” Hoekstra said.

That said, there is growing interest in the Better Cotton Initiative, an industry-led effort using standards to reduce cotton’s water footprint. Organic cotton production also has a lower net water use because it uses no chemicals. Encouragingly, India currently produces two-thirds of the world’s organic cotton. However, this is just 2% of the country’s cotton acreage.

Rather than matching production of goods to the sustainable use of existing water resources, India, like governments around the world, hopes to use engineering to increase the amount of water, said Hoekstra. Instead, India could grow cotton in less arid regions with more efficient irrigation and fewer pesticides to greatly reduce the crop’s impact on water resources.

Stephen Leahy is an international award winning journalist and author of Your Water Footprint, winner of the best science book for 2014.

First published at The Guardian Friday 20 March 2015 . 

 

Author Stephen Leahy to Speak at Canadian Club Feb 18

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Canadian Club of Halton Peel to host award-winning international environmental journalist Stephen Leahy at the Oakville Conference Centre 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

 Stephen, author of “Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products”, will show how our entire society runs on water NOT oil. 

Copies of Your Water Footprint will be offered for sale by Different Drummer Books and Stephen will be happy to sign them.

Oakville Conference Centre: 2515 Wyecroft Road, Oakville, Ontario (QEW & Bronte Rd.), L6L 6P8

Registration/Cash Bar 6 pm; Dinner 7 pm     Members $35   Non-Members $45   Students $20  (cash, cheques, debit, Visa & MasterCard)

For information & reservations, contact Barry Wylie, President, at barrywylie1@gmail.com or (905) 827-6302.

Cheques payable to The Canadian Club of Halton Peel with the name(s) of the attendee(s) can be mailed to: Canadian Club of Halton Peel 283 River Side Drive, Oakville, Ontario L6K 3N3

Please notify us of a cancellation by Tuesday, February 16.

Oil Steals the Headlines but Peak Water is Here

Oil steals all the headlines, but the virtual water that goes into producing the things we eat, wear and use every day is the biggest risk to humanity

 

First published by NOW magazine

Book Award-winning Environmental Journalist and Author

MUSE talk passport

Stephen will be doing more talks in 2016 about about his prize-winning book Your Water FootprintThe Shocking Facts Behind Our Thirst for Earth’s Most Precious Resource (Best Science Book in Canada).  

Reviewers have called Your Water Footprint: “brilliant and shocking” and “exceptionally lucid”

Stephen is also an expert on the United Nations climate talks and climate science. He is a winner of the prestigious Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for his Climate Change and Environment Reporting.

As a journalist he has written over 2000 articles on  science and environmental topics around the world for National Geographic, the Guardian, New Scientist, IPS, and many more.

Stephen’s 8-minute talk for Walrus TV:  “We don’t realize our entire society runs on water. It doesn’t run on oil”

 To inquire about Stephen speaking at your event please complete the contact form below.

Book Now for 2016!

Selected 2015 Appearances

Moscow, Idaho/Pullman, Washington
2015 Palouse Basin Water Summit – Keynote Speaker

Mailbu, California and Los Angles Area
MUSE talks

Victoria, B.C. Walrus Talks Water

 Toronto  Ribbon at the Lower Don Festival celebrating the PAN AM Games 

Halifax, Nova Scotia Walrus Talks Water

CONTACT:

Please fill out the form below – it helps reduce spam. Yes, this really works and I will reply — Stephen.

“Our entire society runs on water. It doesn’t run on oil”

THE VIRTUAL WORLD OF WATER

A 9 minute talk about the ‘rhino in the room’ of water scarcity and developing “water vision” to see the hidden world of water that’s all around us.

Click here: Stephen Leahy – THE VIRTUAL WORLD OF WATER
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Daily Life Takes HOW Much Water?

Posted by Brian Clark Howard of National Geographic in Water Currents on April 9, 2015

YWF graphic -pizza

Did you know it takes 240 gallons of water to make a cell phone? Or 52 gallons to make an egg?

The concept of such “hidden water” may seem unfamiliar to some, but it’s an important part of our impact on the planet, argues author Stephen Leahy in the recent book Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products.

Leahy, who has written for National Geographic, spoke with Water Currents about how water is required for almost everything we do, and how we can reduce that impact.

What inspired you to write a book on hidden water?

When I was in Australia doing a piece on climate change and invasive species for National Geographic I took an extra week of vacation and hung out with some Aborigines in a remote part of Queensland. To get water I had to walk 200 yards to a stream. It was heavy to haul the water and when it got dark it felt risky because they have nasty snakes and spiders there. That made me appreciate water more.

Then I went to a sacred waterfall, where shamans are initiated. In one of the final stages a candidate grabs the biggest rock they can lift and jumps into the pool, where they lay down until they drown. If the spirit finds them worthy they are brought back alive and become an official shaman. It had been over 20 years since someone managed that, but hearing about it made me realize that these folks take water really seriously.

And then when I got home from that trip I saw an email from the publisher, Firefly, asking if I wanted to write a book about hidden water. I thought it sounded like a really interesting approach to an important subject.

What aspect of hidden water most surprised you?

I was surprised by just how much water it takes to make everything. We don’t really have any material things without water, from food to housing, furniture, electricity, transportation, and so much more.

I tried hard to find something that doesn’t need any water and I couldn’t, which showed how dependent we are on it. And yet we pay little attention to it. We have a lot of stubstites for oil, but we don’t have any water substitutes.

In your book you note that it takes eight bathtubs of water for a typical breakfast. So what should people do if they want to reduce that?

The easiest way to reduce the amount of water you consume is to cut back on meat, since raising meat is really water intensive. Beyond that, beef is much more water intensive than chicken, so you can substitute one for the other.

Next, if you can buy local food it’s easier to find out about how it was produced, including if the water used was managed sustainably. That’s important because it’s not just the amount of water that’s important, it’s also how it is managed. For example, is excess water returned to the local system?

Farming many water-intensive foods in a desert or semi-desert is not sustainable. California, for example, has a huge water deficit.

It’s also true that about 40% of all food in North America is wasted, which means a huge amount of water is wasted. So reducing food waste can really reduce the amount of water you are using, way more than a low-flow shower head, which is still important.

Meat-based diet VS VegetarianWhat else can people do to save water?

A lot of it is going back to the basics on reducing and reusing stuff. Reduce the number of times you swap our your cell phone for the latest model and you’ll save 240 gallons of water. Find a home for your phone if you really have to have a new one instead of tossing it in the landfill. Consumption of material goods means consumption of water.

Flat screen TVs are also very water intensive, requiring tens of thousands of gallons for each one. So ask yourself if you really need it. Use thrift stores to get your clothes, which are fortunately cool again.

shower

In your book you write that “peak water” is already here and yet few people know it. Can you explain what that means?

The amount of freshwater that’s available is limited, it’s a tiny fraction of all the water there is on the planet. But our demand is soaring. We’re growing in numbers and in our consumption of things, and each and everything requires water, and lots of it.

The Ogallala Aquifer [in the Great Plains] is declining about nine feet a year and within 20 years or so it’s going to be empty. It’s the same problem in California. Three in five people in the world will be experiencing water scarcity by 2025. At Davos world leaders recently said that the biggest challenge humanity faces in the next 10 years is water scarcity.

We’ve covered hidden water at National Geographic before (and in our water footprint calculator) and people often tell us they struggle to understand the concept. They think of water as what comes out of their tap. Do you think it’s a hard message to get across?

It’s a hard message for adults but apparently not so hard for kids, who seem to grasp it right away. Our new book has a lot of infographics that try to break it down to help people understand it. We try to show, for example, that a car is like a giant bag of water, with another bag of water on top of that for fuel. Clothes are bags of water, so are books.

There also seems to be a widening gap between many people around the world who don’t have clean water and those of us who seem to be using more and more. How can this gap be bridged?

Ginormous rivers of virtual water are flowing from one country to another. A lot of it isn’t very smart.

For example, Egypt is a big exporter of oranges, mostly to Europe. But it’s a desert country. It takes roughly 20 gallons of water for each orange, but at the same time they don’t have enough water to grow the food they need. So they end up importing cheap food from other countries.

Australia is the biggest virtual exporter of water, through mining and agricultural products, but it’s also the driest continent, so that doesn’t make sense.

virtual water trade wfn smlSo what can people do?

Don’t use more water than you have. If you can grow crops that can be rain fed, that don’t require irrigation, that’s great. If it requires adding water drip irrigation is far more efficient than flood irrigation.

Stop and think before you do something if you really need it or if there is another way to get the service. Can you get those jeans at a thrift store? Can you take a train instead of drive [which saves on the amount of water needed for fuels]? Can you get your cell phone used?

“timely, important, and fascinating” — Review of Your Water Footprint

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 3.30.01 PMAnyone living on the West Coast and desert regions of the United States is familiar with the concept of water scarcity. As global warming, food and commodity production, and population increases continue to affect the planet and its resources, water scarcity will continue to be an important and critical issue.

Environmental journalist Leahy has created a guide for understanding just how much water is used in our daily activities and in the manufacturing of the products we consume, while putting into context current facts about the status of water availability. Readers will find the information, which is presented in an ­infographiclike style, easy to understand and to act upon.

While the introduction and conclusion expertly unpack the complex issue of water use, the images and large text in the body of the book seem to be geared toward younger readers. However, this book is unique in its handling of a complex topic and is unlike other texts on the subject. Readers interested in a more traditional study on water might choose David Sedlak’s Water 4.0.

VERDICT The content is timely, important, and fascinating, though the infographic-style depiction of water use might not appeal to some adult readers.—Jaime Corris Hammond, Naugatuck Valley Community Coll. Lib., Waterbury, CT

Your Water Footprint:  The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products

October 2014 Firefly Books, 160 Pages, 125 Unique Infographics only $19.95Paperback (Also avail in hardcover) Order today

In US:  AmazonPowell’s Books; Barnes&NobleIndiebound

Canada:  Chapters-Indigo Signed copies avail at Blue Heron Books – Stephen’s home town bookstore; In Ottawa visit the legendary Octopus Books

UK:  WH SmithAmazonWaterstones

Australia: Angus & RobertsonBooktopia

New Zealand: Mighty Ape