Grow, Drink, or Waste…

What will you do with your water?


This week my reading aligns on the topic of water so it’s a great time to explore it.  Usage, scarcity, and true cost are the components I’m going to address today. The importance of valuing fresh, drinkable water cannot be overstated.  About 70% earth is covered in water however, only .07% of that is fresh water.  Of that .07% of fresh water 70% of today’s water withdrawals are used in agriculture.

Access to fresh water isn’t distributed evenly on a global or national scale. Those that have access to fresh clean water on a daily basis don’t even have a true grasp on what our water is worth, let alone a willingness to pay that amount. Even in industrialized areas up to 50% of the water in domestic infrastructure systems can be lost in transmission. There has been discussion and stress over increasing water costs even as consumption decreases as well as reasoned opinions are voiced to sway the masses.

Where fresh water is located, how much it is used, and it what ways is the next step. Data and maps provided by the Sasi Group at the University of Sheffield and Mark Newman at the University of Michigan helps to illustrate this. The maps and data set can be found at World Mapper.


This map illustrates the undistorted shape of each county.


This first distorted map shows the proportion of worldwide water use in each country or area.


This second map shows the proportion of all water used that is more than 10% of the renewable internal freshwater resources of that territory.


Our third map shows the proportion of all water used for domestic purposes that was used within the region.


The fourth map represents the proportion of all water used for industrial purposes between 1987 to 2003.


The final map shows us the proportion of all water used for agricultural purposes from 1987 to 2003 in each region.

Looking at the trends shown in the SHI & UNESCO graph, from the Vital Water Graphics Report,  below we can see the increase in water use across all sectors and the dominance of agricultural use.


TruCost studied the Top 100 Externalities of Business and found an estimated US$1.9 trillion in cost caused by the global natural capital cost of water consumption.

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92% of these costs derive from the top 100 region-sectors concentrated in agriculture and water supply located in Asia and North America.  Part of the problem in quantifying these losses lies in the issue that water taken directly from the surface or groundwater supply is rarely paid for.

“The extent to which agricultural sectors globally do not generate enough revenue to cover their environmental damage is particularly striking from a risk perspective.”

The valuation for water ranges from $0.1 per m3 where water is relatively plentiful, to over $14 per m3 in areas of scarcity.  13 of the top 20 region sectors in water use all center around agricultural uses.

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 3.32.48 PM

The report shows the relationship between pricing and scarcity below.

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As we move forward in considering sustainable regional development an understanding of our where our food comes from and what that means in costs to the natural environment should be a piece of the puzzle.  So what do you want to do with the water we have… Grow, Drink, or Waste?


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