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Our “Watery Road to Hell”

It seems that everything has a footprint these days, and water is no different. I was listening to the CBC the other morning (they do still have some interesting bits being broadcast, in between the muzak) and on The Current, Anna Maria Tremonti played an interesting documentary called “Tina and Kim’s Watery Road to Hell,” which talks about what Tina and Kim Pittaway (two journalists, who are also sisters) call our ‘virtual water footprint.’ The documentary in full can be found here, in the December 16th edition of the series titled “Watershed.” (I haven’t listened to the rest of this, but will do so shortly)

Tina and Kim begin by talking about the water most of us are aware of using: the water we shower with, wash dishes with, brush our teeth with. But what really uses up water is our ‘virtual’ water use – the water used to create the stuff we consume. This number shocked me, as I hadn’t considered it before. Just take a look at the following statistics, for example:

1) Using a dishwasher uses 3-5 times less water than washing dishes by hand!

2) The second biggest strain on water use in the summer, after watering lawns, is washing cars. If you must wash your car, car washes are much more environmentally friendly, surprisingly enough! They have to filter the water that is used, separating out oil etc. that gets washed off our cars, and often the water is recycled. Water we use at home just runs off, with all the grit, grim and oil residue, right into our sewage system.

3) It takes 10 liters of water to make ONE sheet of paper!!!! Yikes! Thank goodness I have been too poor to refill the ink cartridge on my printer, as I have a huge stack of articles I was planning on printing out. Guess I’ll be working on my on-line skills for highlighting and note taking!

4) It takes 13 liters of water to grow one industrial tomato

5) 1 cotton shirt requires 2-3000 liters of water (good grief!!!)

6) 1 pair of leather shoes requires 8000 liters of water (ok, no more shoes for me!)

The most shocking fact of all, is that the average Canadian uses THREE MILLION liters of water PER YEAR.

This is insane. There are people on earth who are dying from lack of access to water, and there are entire regions (such as Arizona) that are out of water, yet I use 3 million liters a year through my daily habits?! I have mentioned my intention to research water issues more closely, but quite frankly, I have been avoiding it, for fear of what I will learn. These stats are exactly what I’m talking about, and I know that’s just the beginning of the horrible news I am going to unearth as I further investigate this topic.

On a slightly positive note, Tina and Kim advise that “the best way for us to reduce our water footprint is to really look closely at what we eat.” It turns out that the number one place to start with this is to reduce meat consumption. By cutting back meat consumption by 25%, most people will reduce their water footprint by 150,000 liters of water per year. Anyone else shocked by this? Because I certainly am.

I really had no idea how much water industrial food production used. I have until now been thinking in terms of fossil fuel consumption, but water is a whole other dimension that isn’t even on the radar yet. And it sure needs to be, because we’re running out. And while we can live without oil – painful as that might end up being – we cannot live without water.

I actually don’t eat that much meat these days. In fact of late I have been eating meat probably once a week, and even then, maybe only 3-4 strips of bacon. Meat is very expensive, and it’s hard to find local, sustainably raised meat, so I mostly go without. I do still buy a lot of meat, however, to feed my animals. When I calculated my water footprint at WaterFootprint.org, something like 95% of my water use comes from meat consumption, and that’s just to feed my pets! I really must find good sources of pastured and grass finished meat. This has been a goal for some time now, and it’s time to make this a reality.

I’ve checked out several books on the global water crisis from the library and hope to work my way through them over the holidays. I don’t look forward to learning what they contain, but I think it’s time to bite the bullet and find out.

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