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Your Water Footprint

Book Review of: Your Water Footprint

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

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Review of Your Water Footprint, by Author (Hardcover, 2014)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


This book will help you think about your stewardship of water. Not just how you use what comes out of the faucet, but also what gets used to make the products you buy. For that reason, I think it's important to read this book. Though the text runs 120 pages, this book is a quick read because it's very graphics-heavy. A typical page has about 100 words on it, so except for the introduction and the conclusion the actual text length is less than that of a normal-sized magazine article.

The subtitle promises shocking facts, but it's unclear from the text or the graphics where the author gets these from. I think it is best to use his "facts" as starting points and conduct your own additional research.

In some cases, his facts are technically false but mostly right. For example, he claims that the earth has no more water than when the dinosaurs roamed, as if the planet were a closed system. The reality is the earth is not a closed system, and it has taken on additional water since the dinosaurs roamed. Astronomers have proven this beyond all doubt, and anyone who has watched a "falling star" has probably seen a water-bearing comet plunging to earth. Granted, this much water is not going to replenish our drying aquifers or other sources of fresh water, but the fact remains we do not have exactly the same amount of water on this planet as we did 30 million years ago.

In other cases, he presents "secret recipe" numbers that we are to accept by faith. For example, he claims that producing one cotton shirt requires 2500 liters of water but producing one polyester shirt requires only 350 liters. How does he arrive at this figure? He does say in the introduction that these calculations might not be spot on, but in no case does he reveal his mysterious methodology. Since polyester is made from oil, and acquiring oil is very water-intensive, these figures cannot possibly be correct. Factor in something as water-costly as shale oil production or fracking (which the author covers), and the relationship is profoundly reversed. That polyester shirt is a water hog, compared to the cotton one.

And it's worth noting that the cotton versus polyester thing is a false comparison in the first place. Polyester clothing stinks, which means people who wear it are likely to try to cover up the smell with water-consuming perfumes that are also toxic (promoting water-costly treatments for the illnesses resulting from taxing the liver with removing these toxins). I won't wear polyester, but not just because of the smell. In the electrical industry, it's a forbidden fabric because it melts so fast and when it melts it melts into the skin not just on it; the burns are horrific.

It's also worth noting that he does not factor in the total (water) cost of ownership. If you properly care for a cotton shirt, it should last for decades. That is, use a non-abrasive detergent, use a fraction of the amount of detergent the bottle says to use (this not only prolongs the life of the fabric, it gets it cleaner), and don't completely dry it in a clothes dryer. This holds true for all natural fabrics, but cotton is a prime example. I've got cotton sheets that are over thirty years old and I have T-shirts that show no visible wear after twenty. Polyester, by contrast, starts pilling almost right away. And it looks tacky. I consider "polyester clothing" to be an oxymoron. But if you choose polyester, you are going to buy many replacements that would not be required if you chose cotton. So the water cost of polyester far outstrips that of cotton; this is exactly the opposite of the false conclusion the author reaches.

Based on what I just said plus some other reasons, you have to take this book's "facts" and figures with a few grains of salt. In some cases, they give a totally misleading picture, as in the example just cited. In other cases, there is so much statistical deviation permitted by or inherent in the calculations that it doesn't matter which of two choices you make. For example, whether you eat an orange or a grapefruit will hardly matter in terms of water cost.

But in other cases, it matters greatly. These cases are easy to discern. For example, eating meat. I have no idea why anyone in the United States continues to do this, considering how contaminated the meat supply is. I don't eat meat, wheat, corn, or soy, because these formerly safe foods are now very health-averse junk unfit for human consumption. Still, there are people who engage in this unhealthy behavior. It's not just unhealthy for the individual, it is also very water-costly.

Another example is the stupidity of running water while grooming. I have never understood why some people cannot figure out how to operate a faucet more than twice in a given period of standing in front of a sink. What is so challenging about turning it off after wetting your beard, then turning it back on (then off) only to rinse the razor a few times and then turning it on (then off) to rinse your face? The amount of waste is staggering. This book contains many such examples, and regardless of the water use calculation methodology, these examples point the way to significantly less water usage.

As a side note, I'm all over this already. My latest water bill showed usage that is 1/3 that of a "moderate user." One glaring way I "waste" water is I do organic gardening; else I'd be farther below that "moderate" line.

Kansas summers are notoriously hot and dry. We actually get hotter than southern Florida, and many days the humidity runs about 15%. Plus there's a desiccating wind. I'm particular about how I water, to get the most benefit for my garden from the least water. I also wash my car, but again I use a methodology that minimizes water waste. In addition, I use a four-step sealing method to protect the paint and enhance the shine. Even years after it rolled off the dealer lot, the car outshines a brand new one. The author doesn't discuss how much water is consumed repainting or replacing a car whose exterior has not been properly maintained.

Still, his core points are valid. We use far too much water, we could easily reduce the waste with some knowledge (which he provides) and some self-discipline. We won't solve the water shortage as long as many humans confuse themselves with rabbits and thus continue to overbreed and overpopulate the planet. But making smart choices can extend the water we do have, forestalling the day when we are simply out of potable water.

One big step is to advocate to others that they boycott bottled water. Not only is this product extremely wasteful (as the author points out), buying it (nearly always) defies common sense for a list of reasons. Worse, companies like Nestle basically steal the water that they bottle and sell. Read up on the not so famous case in Wisconsin, which involved buying a superior court judge to overturn the legally correct and morally imperative decision of a lower court judge. When you buy bottled water, you support organized crime.

The author provides a handy guide to other steps, most of which are very easy to take, in his eight-page water-saving tips section. He arranged the tips by bathroom, kitchen and laundry, outdoors, and lifestyle.

While this book lacks the kind of academic rigor that would make it a solid work, it addresses one of the most important issues of our day. It provides keen insights and it provides helpful suggestions that all of us can follow to help save this very precious resource.


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