How lifestyle choices cause you to use more water

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015
How lifestyle choices cause you to waste more water than you think
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Many people in California pride themselves on how much water they save, but a person's real water use can depend on their lifestyle.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Californians have cut our home water use by about 30 percent this summer. That's a serious effort that is paying off, but most of us probably don't realize a lot of our water use is hidden. ABC7 News took a look at how your lifestyle choices are soaking up an average of 10 times more water than shows up on your water bill.

Californians use an average of 100 gallons of water a day, but that only counts direct water use -- the stuff that comes out of your tap at home. Now a growing number of water experts believe we should also focus on the rest of our water use.

Kristi Cheng of San Francisco was surprised to learn through the water calculator she uses an average of 1,835 gallons per day. That all-inclusive number is known as your water footprint.

The non-profit Grace Communications Foundation created an online calculator to help you figure out your water footprint. You answer a few questions about daily habits then stand back for the bad news.

Kai Olson-Sawyer from the Grace Communications Foundation says your water footprint includes, "all the water it takes to make the food you eat, the energy you use and also all the products you buy."

We got volunteers at the Exploratorium in San Francisco to help us test the water calculator out.

Julie Nunn from Napa was shocked to find out she probably uses an average of 3,051 gallons of water per day.

The numbers are not exact calculations, but rather averages based on people with similar habits.

Olson-Sawyer says, "We're just giving people a snapshot, an estimate. But at the same time it gives people an idea of what they are actually using."

There are questions about your faucets, toilets, watering your yard, and you can see how they all add up. Then come things you might not immediately connect with water such as how many miles a week you drive.

Every mile people drive uses about three-quarters of a gallon of water.

Now, how much do you spend on dog food a month? It turns out it takes a lot of water to make most pet food. Unfortunately, that is true for people too. Food generally accounts for two-thirds of your water footprint and meat is often the biggest factor.

We showed Katie Retz of Oakland how much water she probably uses with two meat eaters in her household. Easily, her water footprint jumped up 2,000 gallons. That high number is because of all the water it takes to raise cattle. Retz said she didn't really eat meat every day of the week, so the calculator adjusted her water footprint down.

Next, we asked Aeryka Denton of Daly City how often she does her laundry. She joked, "Rarely. I just buy more clothes."

However, it takes an estimated 500-2,000 gallons of water to make one new pair of jeans, because of the water it takes to grow the cotton.

If you have an energy-efficient washing machine, it averages only 27 gallons of water per load.

The shop-till-you drop mentality can really raise your water footprint and it's not just clothes.

Heather Cooley from the Pacific Institute says, "There's also water used to produce our electronics, our televisions, our phones and even our electricity."

Water researchers say even though we're saving water at home, the state's overall water footprint is going up.

Cooley added, "The trend is that we are increasing our consumption of goods and services and of the water associated with that."

The water calculator does have some good news. For example, recycling actually lowers your water footprint and everyone we talked to said they would use what they learned to make changes.

Alice Shin of Berkeley said she could lower her water footprint by eating less meat.

Atra Kermani from San Ramon said, "Maybe trying to drive less, I would say, and then may be the shopping factor too."

If you cut down the amount of shopping, you could cut your spending and save water at the same time.

Now it's your turn. Try out the water calculator and find out what your water footprint really is.

Water calculator:

Pacific Institute report on California's water footprint:

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney