Reducing Our Water Footprint By Living Sustainably

Canada is blessed with many lakes, rivers, and streams and has an abundance of water for its small population size. However, 60 per cent of Canada's water flows northward, making it unavailable to southern Canada, where the majority of the country's population lives. The Niagara Region, for example, only has access to a very limited amount of water for personal, industrial and agricultural purposes. What's worse is that climate change further limits freshwater availability due to droughts and other extreme weather events. 

Approximately 30 per cent of Canadian households rely on groundwater sources for water. Since most of these sources must be recharged from the surface, changes in river flows and land use can significantly impact the amount of water available to these households. As climate changes continues to make our water supply more limited, we need to be vigilant about how we use our water and for what purposes. 

Our water footprint is the amount of water we consume in our daily life. This includes the water used to grow the food we eat and to produce the energy and products in our daily life (our books, music, house, car, furniture, clothes, etc.). The global average water footprint was 1.4 million litres per person per year in 2017. However, water footprints vary greatly depending on where you live. The average water footprint for a Canadian is approximately 6400 litres of water per person per day. On the other hand, residents of countries like China and India consume only 3000 litres of water per day. 

Our water footprints vary significantly based on the types of food products we consume. For instance, a 250 millilitre cup of tea has a water footprint of 30 litres, whereas the same amount of coffee has a water footprint of 280 litres. The location where our food is produced also impacts its water footprint. Locally produced broccoli, for example, requires one tenth the amount of water that is required to produce avocados. A 100 gram bar of chocolate requires a whopping 2400 litres of water to produce! With that in mind, it is understandably more sustainable to consume locally produced food products if we want to minimize our water footprint on the planet.  

Virtual water is the amount of water needed for each commodity or service that you receive. 

 The water required for producing goods that are imported into Canada is an example of virtual water, such as the more than 10,000 litres required to manufacture one pair of jeans. Understanding where water comes from and how it is used can help us better understand challenges both globally and locally in the era of climate change.  

The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our articles every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May and Pulkit Garg) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at ​meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca​.