California has implemented mandatory statewide water restrictions as it tries to cope with the effects of an intense, multi-year drought. Governor Jerry Brown said the new regulations could reduce water usage by 25%.
A 25% reduction doesn’t mean drinking water will become scarce, and a shorter shower won’t make that much of a difference. That’s because most of the water in your total water footprint—the amount of water you are responsible for consuming—is hidden. Most water is actually used in the process of making something else. For example, that liter (33 oz) of beer you drank on Saturday night actually required 300 liters of water (pdf) to produce:
It gets worse when it comes to food. The water footprint of the fruit and vegetables we eat is vast:
And then there’s meat. Raising animals requires providing them with drinking water, sometimes for years before they are slaughtered, and the animals will also eat huge amounts of grains and roughage that also require large amounts of hydration, creating a double-whammy of water intensity.