Hidden water use

Where Is That Water Hiding?

Though we may already be familiar with the more obvious ways we use our water (for drinking, cleaning, showers, and irrigation), there are plenty of other ways we use water indirectly in our daily rituals. For instance…consider the amount of water it takes to boil your standard pasta dinner. You might not think about it as part of your daily water use, but it takes about 1 gallon of potable water to cook a package of pasta.

Water is often used in the production of food, clothing, furniture, and even energy! Water is an amazing resource, but it is also a limited resource. Although we cannot change how much water is used in the creation of some products, we should do our best as individuals to be conscious of our consumption. This awareness of our hidden water use can help us make more responsible choices in our day-to-day lives.

Read on to learn about some unexpected high water use products and ways we can cut back on our consumption.

In Our Food
Almond milk surrounded by almonds
Bottle of almond milk

Most of our fresh produce is grown on farms in small to large scale agricultural operations. Different crops will require different amounts of water to grow to the ideal size and adopt the ideal flavor. Some low water use crops include spinach, squash, onions, carrots, and melons. Many of these crops are capable of producing deep root systems, meaning that they can access more water within the soil. This means they can survive through drought-like conditions longer than plants with shorter root systems that can only access what is immediately available to them through rainfall or irrigation. On the other hand, almonds, pistachios, rice, sugar, soy, wheat, and avocados all use significant amounts of water (Living Waters). Though they may use a lot of water, it’s important to note that the location of these agricultural operations matters as well. Farms in drier climates with less access to regular rainfall will have to use more water to keep crops irrigated.

Hydroponic lettuce
Hydroponic lettuce

One way to combat the high water use of some of these crops is hydroponic and greenhouse farming. Hydroponic systems do not use soil but instead expose crops to nutrients directly. This allows for less energy expenditure on behalf of the plants, and it leads to better yields. These systems also use up to 10 times less water than traditional outdoor farming. Greenhouse farming has similar benefits, since it is easier to control the environmental variables through technology. This means a lower risk of pests and the ability to grow year-round. Not all crops can be farmed through these methods, however. The majority of greenhouse-grown crops include pepper, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, herbs, and strawberry.

The key to reducing our hidden water use here is to opt for products that have a smaller water footprint. For instance, it takes a fair few almonds to create a carton of almond milk. About 80% of the world’s supply of almonds are grown in California. Each of those almonds takes about 1 gallon of water to produce. By switching your almond milk to oat milk, you can help save several gallons each year. You can also choose products that are farmed using water-friendly methods, like hydroponic lettuce or greenhouse tomatoes. Additionally, the University of Florida is working with strawberry farms in the state to help reduce their water use, so supporting your local growers is another great way to cut down on your hidden water use.

In Our Gasoline

Gasoline uses up more water than you might realize. In fact, for every mile of gas, you are using an estimated 3/4 gallons of water. Since not everyone has the ability to switch to a more energy-efficient, electric vehicle, you can help limit your trips to the gas station by carpooling.

Cars in traffic
Carpooling is a great way to save gas!

One tip is to coordinate your chores so that you can take care of them in fewer trips. For example, if a roommate or family member is planning on driving to the grocery store, you can go with them instead of making a separate trip later. Another thing to keep in mind is that your personal travel isn’t the only way you use gas. Your online orders also use up gasoline during transport. Consider supporting carbon-neutral companies and limiting your shopping to be mostly in-person, and if you do have to order something online, look to local businesses instead of international sellers.

In Our Clothes

Ah, yes! The clothes on our backs and in our closets, in fact, all use water at some point in their production. One of the biggest offenders when it comes to water use is the fast fashion industry, which wastes tens of billions of gallons a year creating lower quality pieces that often end up in the landfill. Did you know that producing a simple pair of denim blue jeans uses nearly 2,900 gallons of water? That is enough to provide drinking water to an individual for at least 15 years. The industrial dyeing process used in creating these jeans also uses significant amounts of water and is known to contribute to global water pollution.

Rack of used clothes
Rack of secondhand clothing

Many fast fashion pieces are also made of synthetic fabric. Fabrics like polyester and viscose release harmful microplastics when washed. We can help combat this environmentally destructive behavior by opting to buy more sustainable products. A great way to cut back on your hidden water use in this area is to shop second-hand. Local thrift and consignment stores are great businesses to support, because not only are you discouraging wasteful production, but you are keeping perfectly good clothing out of the landfill. Not to mention, you are bound to run into some fantastic deals.

In Other Products
Cooling tower
Energy cooling tower

Beyond our food, cars, and clothes, most of the products we use on a daily basis require some amount of water. This even includes the energy we need to power our televisions, computers, and phones. Since heat is a byproduct of energy production, water must be used to help cool the equipment so it may remain functional. This water is then moved to cooling towers, where it will be released into the environment after it reaches a safe temperature. So, by saving electricity, we’re also saving water!

Plastics, which are predominantly made from natural gas and crude oil, are also a large water user. Cutting down or eliminating our plastic use altogether is an easy way to not only save water, but it will help keep single-use plastics out of the landfill. Bring your own bags to the grocery store instead of using the provided bags. You can also invest in a good quality water bottle to replace any plastic bottles that you may be using. It takes 1,000 bottles of water to produce just 1 single-use water bottle. These are just a few simple ways you can reduce your water footprint.

Reducing Your Water Footprint

Your water footprint is a lot like your carbon footprint. There is no way to get around using water in our daily lives. Not only do we need to consume it directly for our survival, but many of the other things we need to be comfortable require water. However, because our livelihoods depend on water, we should be conscious of our consumption and try to cut down where we can. I would like to challenge you, our reader, to pick one of the categories above and track your water use for the week. If you find yourself regularly using any high-water use products, see if you can find an appropriate alternative that uses less water.

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Tom Obreza, interim dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Sarasota County prohibits discrimination in all services, programs or activities. View the complete policy at www.scgov.net/ADA.

Posted: June 4, 2021

Category: Conservation, Home Landscapes, UF/IFAS Extension, Water
Tags: Conservation, Footprint, Hidden, Pgm_Water, Save, Saving, Use, Water

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories