SS: What are the most surprising high-consumption activities?

TK: Seventy percent of all the water that goes to most residences is for watering lawns—so purely an aesthetic thing. Also, agriculture is one of the biggest uses of water. So it's surprising to find out exactly which fruits and vegetables and meats actually use the most amounts of water. And often, we use a lot of things out of season, so we end up importing them from far, far away, and that of course means transportation, it means more energy, it means more water and it also means storage. We end up storing things that are out of season and that means some type of cooling process and that means more water use. So it's really about getting a little more in tune with nature and its seasons, trying to get things that are fresh and healthier for us and then just being a little more in touch with the things that we use in our lives and how much water they do use. Just being aware of how much water you use throughout your home.

SS: In honor of World Water Day, tell us one thing that you would want everyone to walk away with. What would be the most impactful step that people could take moving forward?

TK: Swap out a piece of meat for vegetables. Swap a hamburger for a salad. That's a huge, huge savings right there—about 600 to 750 gallons, depending on the size of the burger. It's so low on the food chain with vegetables. You're using far less water than you would for any type of meat. And that's a wake-up call for people. Most people don't think about how much water is in their hamburger or in their salad. When you start to think about eating lower on the food chain, it does have a huge impact on water. Because as we talked about, agriculture is the biggest user of water in the world, as a sector. So really, if you want to go after the most impactful thing, that's it. Thinking about how much water for your lawn, thinking about water for your plants—all those things have a huge, huge impact, but the number one thing is agriculture. So we have to think about our diets, to really wage any type of meaningful effect on the water supply.

Next week, Tom will explain in our first audio interview how he calculated our virtual waterprints and how we ended up taking the water we use for granted. In the interim, find more water-saving tips and stats on Twitter @simransethi.


Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit and follow her on Twitter @simransethi.


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