Watching our water footprint

Lake Windermere Ambassadors coordinator walks through water footprint

By Shannon McGinty

Lake Windermere Ambassadors

Most of us have heard of an ecological footprint, which measures the impact of one’s activities in terms of the required area of biologically productive land and water to produce goods consumed and absorb the waste generated. A water footprint is similar but is simply just a measure of humanity’s use of fresh water in volumes of water consumed or polluted. In our community we are very fortunate to have immediate access to fresh water when we need it. As you are likely aware this isn’t the case everywhere.

We all use water on a daily basis, but you may not be aware of just how much water you use or what might be using water. Almost everything we interact with on a daily basis has required water to be produced and delivered to us. In addition to the obvious ones, this includes our clothing, the food we eat, and the energy we use to power our homes. A water footprint is divided into three categories: green, blue, and grey. The green water footprint refers to water in the atmosphere that is absorbed into the soil, used by plants, and may be precipitation, transpiration or evaporation (for example, in our food). The blue water footprint is from surface or groundwater and may be evaporated, incorporated into a product, or water taken from a body of water for use (for example, the water that comes out of our showers). Lastly, the grey water footprint is the amount of fresh water required to assimilate pollutants to meet specific water quality standards (for example, when our waste water goes to the treatment plant). Each category is essential to our daily lives, and all interact with each other through the water cycle.

As a review, the water cycle describes the natural process in which water moves throughout the atmosphere using transpiration, evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. What is not included in the water cycle is the disturbance we cause by diverting, using, and polluting it. Although the earth is about 70 per cent water, only 2.5 per cent is freshwater. Of the freshwater almost 70 per cent of that is locked up in glaciers, leaving a very small amount of available freshwater for us to access for everything we use it for (from drinking to producing energy).

When we step back and take a look at how much water we use on a daily basis, and how little water is available it becomes clear that this is a vital resource. We need to make very careful decisions about how we choose to use water. This is especially important for our region as we are at the headwaters of the Columbia River. The water that comes out of the ground in Canal Flats continues to flow all the way to the ocean, and anything we do to our water do will have an impact downstream.

Two bottled water facility proposals have come up in the last few months in our region. It is important to consider not only the water that would be taken out of the ground, and the potential downstream impacts, but also the water used to produce the bottles, run the facility, transport the product, and recycle the waste when considering support for these types of projects.

Feel free to contribute to this conversation on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter @LakeAmbassadors.

Shannon McGinty, Program Coordinator for the Lake Windermere Ambassadors. Email her at or call the office at (250) 341-6898.

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