Survey Says…Americans Underestimate Their Water Use

Survey Says…Americans Underestimate Their Water Use

A survey finds that Americans aren’t aware of how much water they use

A survey from American Water finds that Americans underestimate how much water they use. The survey is unique in that it not only refers to direct, at-home water use, but also includes indirect — or virtual — water use. Virtual water makes up the vast majority of the water consumed by an individual through their daily purchases and use of goods and services, like food and electricity.

The survey found that most Americans estimate that they use less than 100 gallons per person per day as compared to more than 2,000 gallons per day, according to Water Footprint Network. (After its update, Water Footprint Calculator research pegged the average American water footprint in the same range, at 1,802 gallons.) Most people are not aware of the virtual water needed to produce their food and consumer goods, a quantity of water that quickly adds up.

For instance, American Water polled about typical foods eaten at a Thanksgiving dinner and found that respondents underestimated their water footprint, with a 16-pound turkey expected at only 158 gallons when the footprint is much larger at 4,688 gallons. Likewise, respondents estimated the water footprint of a pecan pie at 135 gallons when it is 1,068 gallons, and a pumpkin pie at 135 gallons when it is 458 gallons.

Notably, respondents were generally more amenable to making water-saving lifestyle changes regarding direct water use, such as waiting to do a full load of laundry (64 percent “likely”; 16 percent “already doing this”) or taking shorter showers (56 percent “likely”; 8 percent “already doing this”). On the other hand, respondents stated that changing behaviors to save virtual water, especially dietary changes, were less likely to be carried out. For example, two of the lowest polling water footprint reductions were eating less meat (41 “likely”; 28 “unlikely”; 6 percent “already doing this”) and switching from coffee to tea (36 “likely”; 32 “unlikely”; 8 percent “already doing this”).

The survey doesn’t identify the reason for this reported disparity between openness to direct over virtual water savings, particularly for diet, but such findings do track with people’s sensitivity about behavioral shifts concerning personal food consumption and environmental footprints. This is further evidence that much more education can be done to connect the essential nature of water to production of food, energy, consumer goods, as well to clean drinking water and healthy ecosystems

The survey was conducted by Opinium in an online poll of 2,006 respondents, in early September 2021.

[American Water]