Infographic: What is the water footprint in the U.S.?

A couple of students have created a "water footprint" infographic that visually details the volume of water consumption throughout various parts of the world.

The alarming rise in clean water consumption has raised the spector of widespread shortages.

Recent studies project that water demand in many countries will exceed supply by 40 percent by the year 2030. Much of the strain on water supply has to with the fact that the vast majority of water consumption (90 percent) goes toward food and energy production. For example, my colleague Boonsri Dickinson pointed out in her report a few weeks ago that "it takes 1.5 tonnes of water to make a computer and six tonnes to make a pair of jeans."  And as the world population grows, so will the number of city dwellers who rely on what scientists consider an unsustainable water infrastructure.

Anna Warwick Sears, a member of the Okanagan Basin Water Board in British Columbia, Canada, told the Daily Mail that "even in one of the driest regions of Canada, our water systems were built under a paradigm of unlimited supply."

Coupled with the effects of climate change, the situation is getting dire. So it may be up to the nations responsible for the lion's share of the world's water consumption to devise and implement solutions that can prevent a potentially catastrophic scenario from occurring in their own backyard.

To sort out who's got their work cut out for them, Joseph Bergen and Nickie Huang, students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, have created a "water footprint" infographic that visually details the volume of water consumption throughout various parts of the world. The map, which was awarded's World Water Day Challenge grand prize, was created using precise measurements of each nation's water consumption and presents this information in an HTML5-based color-coded scheme similar to carbon footprint maps.

You can access the interactive map here and compare water consumption data among different countries by pointing the cursor at that region.

As you might have expected, the thirstiest nations tended to be among the more populous, urbanized and industrialized. But there are a few surprises as well. Here are some comparative statistics that are of particular relevance to us here in the U.S.A.

  • Overall, the United States consumes slightly less water than China. But the argument can be made that Americans consume a lot more since the chinese urban population is more than double the number of city folk living in the States. In fact, the average Chinese person consumes 1138 liters a day compared to 4382 liters a day for the average American.
  • Compared to the United Kingdom, Americans consume around eight times as much water per person each day.
  • Canada, the U.S. neighbor to the north, seems to share the same degree of consumption. The typical Canadian consumes 3796 liters a day. But Canada has a slightly greater yearly supply of water (3300 km3 vs. 3069 km3) and a much smaller population (32.3 million).

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