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Water ‘Footprint’ Reveals California’s Relentless Thirst

Heather Cooley, the co-director of the Water Program for the Pacific Institute, and Ann Tartre, executive director of The Equinox Center, talk to KPBS.


Heather Cooley, Co-director of the Water Program for the Pacific Institute.

Ann Tartre, Executive Director of The Equinox Center, a research and policy center in San Diego.


Most people are familiar with the concept of a carbon footprint. That assessment measures how people's businesses or lifestyles increase greenhouse gas emissions. Knowing what impact we have on the world causes some people to adjust their habits.

Now there is an assessment of how much water we consume in all aspects of our lives in California. The Pacific Institute is releasing research on our "water footprint."

"This report is a way to think about how we support our consumption habits. We think about water locally, but we are connected elsewhere in the world," said Heather Cooley, co-director of the Pacific Institute's water program.

She says the "water footprint" report gives us a new way to think about how we use water in our daily lives.

"We only use a small amount of water in our homes, but it's required to produce nearly everything we consume," she said. "It means that drought in the Midwest and in China can affect us through the consumption of goods. Droughts and scarcity concerns can raise the price of goods and prevent us from accessing things."

Cooley said the average Californian uses 1,500 gallons of water per day.

"That’s a combination of our direct use of water in our homes but also in the use of water embedded in the products that were consuming," she said. "Secondly, California is a net importer of water, meaning we’re importing water in the forms of goods and services produced outside of California into the state for consumption here."

Ann Tartre, executive director of the San Diego non-profit think tank The Equinox Center said her organization's research is based on ability to measure progress, and the water footprint report is a "big step."

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

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