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Virtual water conservation



Water is virtually everywhere. It’s fundamental to life, and not just because it’s in your morning cup of coffee. The idea of conserving water has been around for decades. It’s earned a lot of attention and made great progress over the years. But virtual water preservation movements are not as well known. Virtual water conservation sounds like a concept from a video game or the latest mobile app. In reality, this subject is getting a lot of attention from environmental conservationists and water enthusiasts.    

Domestic water vs. Virtual water

Water conservation efforts are often focused on domestic water consumption. This is the water that flows through our homes and fills our glasses. However, people use far more invisible water than domestic water. Invisible water is hidden from you, so you won’t see it wash down the drain. This water comes from the foods we eat and the products we use. Studies show that each day the average person consumes over 3,000 liters of invisible water that is hidden in food. That number is way higher than the amount of domestic water consumption, which is less than 150 liters a day. Virtual water is a relatively new concept. Before we can conserve it, we need it understand it.

Virtual water in food

Virtual water is a term that refers to the amount of fresh water it takes to produce a product. The calculations take into account the amount of water necessary to grow each crop. For example, beef production uses a lot of invisible water. Cows consume wheat, corn, oats and other crops as they’re being raised. It takes millions of liters of water to grow these grains and feed each cow. Cows obviously drink water to stay hydrated. This also gets factored into the virtual water calculation. Plus you have to think about the water it takes to maintain farm operations. This all contributes to the amount of virtual water you consume while eating hamburgers and steaks.    

Being aware of how much water is required to produce your food can help you conserve water simply by managing your diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables use less water than meat and processed foods. Processed food requires extra water, because it has additional steps for transportation and delivery before it reaches your table. There is also water consumption in the food cleaning and preparation processes.

Ways to conserve virtual water

Processing your own snacks is a great way to limit your virtual water consumption. Homemade apple sauce and trail mix require minimal effort to prepare. This easy change will lessen your dependence on processed foods. Frozen meals from the freezer section of the grocery store use a lot of water in the production process. If you make a homemade version with fresh ingredients, you will decrease your virtual water use. These homemade dishes can also be frozen and reheated for quick meals. Simple efforts like this will contribute to the global water preservation movement.   

The decisions you make in the grocery store and in the kitchen can have a big impact on reducing your water footprint. Meat, nuts and dairy products require a lot of water. It’s hard to avoid them altogether, but you can look for pasture-raised products. Pasture-raised products use less water, so they’re typically better for the environment. Eating leftovers and planning your meals reduces food waste, which reduces water consumption. When you throw away rotten and moldy food, you’re also throwing away the water that was used to produce it. 

Producing your own food or buying locally supports virtual water preservation efforts. Farmers markets, community gardens and vegetable patches in your backyard reduce your virtual water use. Locally grown foods aren’t transported thousands of miles, which is a factor in invisible water calculations. They also don’t need to be preserved for long periods of time. Not only are these food sources better for preserving freshwater, but they’re also healthier for you and your family.

Water conservation habits begin at home. With domestic water conservation, you fix leaking faucets and take shorter showers. It’s easy to see how these small actions are making a difference. Virtual water conservation is harder to visualize, because you don’t have contact with the water you’re preserving. However, when you buy local produce, reduce your food waste and limit your process food intake, it will minimize virtual water consumption. Right now, there’s a big gap between the amount of domestic water used and the amount of virtual water being consumed each day. The good news is that virtual water conservation efforts are spreading and gaining momentum. With these efforts we’ll make sure that water is virtually and actually available for years to come.