Changes to the Water Footprint Calculator Website

Changes to the Water Footprint Calculator Website

Updates to the water data and sources and a redesign have made our Water Footprint Calculator even better!

We at GRACE Communications Foundation are happy to announce the updates made to our award-winning Water Footprint Calculator (WFC) website. We gave the site a new, streamlined look, and we improved the functionality, expanded the content and updated the water data and sources behind the calculations.

Completed by more than 1.3 million site visitors since its relaunch in 2015, the WFC site features a free, online tool that estimates your water footprint. Through a series of simple questions about daily routines, this innovative and interactive tool accounts for the water you use from the tap and the water it takes to produce the food you eat, the energy you use and the products you buy. The WFC is also the only Spanish-language calculator online that focuses on the United States and uses US standard units.

The site also offers over 100 water-saving tips, in-depth explorations of water-related issues and frequently updated news and articles about water footprints and water use. In addition, we added two sets of comprehensive Water Footprint lesson plans that provide middle and high school students with a deeper understanding of water footprints and their own water resource impacts.

Why Did We Update the Water Footprint Calculator Data?

We updated the data that drives the WFC to ensure that we use the latest and most consistent information available. The WFC presents an estimate of your water footprint based on your behaviors and practices. Although the intention is not to give a precise accounting of an individual’s water use, we still want visitors to have the best available data and information so that they can understand how their water use compares to shifting national averages. We also strive to give visitors a better understanding of national trends for both direct and indirect (virtual) water use.

The good news? Recent data shows that in the United States, water footprints are shrinking thanks to a mix of more water- (and energy-) efficient products and fixtures, effective conservation policies and recent studies that look more closely at how people use water.

As part of our data update, we rewrote our in-depth Methodology that explains how we built the tool and provides the data, sources and calculations that power it. To maintain consistency between data sets used throughout, we based the data on the year 2016 where possible, because some notable water-use research came out that year.  

Notable changes include:

  • The average total water footprint per person per day has shrunk to just over 1,800 gallons, down from over 2,200 gallons per person per day when we first launched the tool.
  • Dietary water footprints: We updated the food data using research from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Balance Sheets (circa 2016). As a result, the more precise, US-focused data resulted in a smaller dietary water footprint. Previous versions of the WFC included food data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  • The state electricity data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reflect the shifting nature of US electricity production and overall reductions in water consumption. Over time, the composition of state electricity portfolios has shifted from water-intensive, coal-fired power plants to less water-intensive natural gas power plants and renewable energy, like wind and solar.
  • Direct water use data from both inside and outside the home were updated in Residential End Uses of Water, Version 2 (REUW 2016), and we incorporated the new data into the WFC. This study – the gold standard in domestic water use – demonstrated that water-use rates have declined throughout the US and Canada.

Why are Water Footprints Important?

In the United States, we often take for granted the large quantities of water we use daily, directly and virtually. This can greatly affect water resources locally and in places where goods and services are produced. We all need to recognize the role we play with our water use and understand that even small changes can have a big impact on our water footprints. A deeper understanding of water footprints can help make everyone better stewards of water resources on a personal and community level.

Written by Kai Olson-Sawyer.