Opinion: Could you survive on 1 gallon of water per day if you had to?

Karen Madej

You’ll be surprised how much we use on an ordinary day. How much water, on average, do you think we use globally? 

Africans can and do survive on 5.28 gallons of water per day. A typical Brit will use about 41 gallons per day, whereas an average American uses between 100 to 175 gallons of water per day.

The CDC recommends one gallon of water per day in emergencies for drinking and sanitation. Let’s explore where much of our freshwater goes down the drain.

The World Counts keeps track of how many tons of freshwater the world uses per day, week, month, and year. Earth may be known as the blue planet for its 75% water coverage. However, only 2.5% of our planet’s water is safe to drink.

Many of us lose sight of how much water goes into producing the food and drink products we consume.

Can you guess how many billion tons of freshwater are consumed every day worldwide?

10 billion tons worldwide. This figure doesn’t only include what we drink or use to wash ourselves and our clothes. Our clothes, paper, and cotton production use 167 liters, and food accounts for 3,496 liters a day per person.

Virtual water is the invisible water used out of sight to make what we buy and eat. Prof. Tony Allan conceived the idea of virtual water to help us understand how much freshwater we actually use behind the scenes.

An example of virtual water is how much water is used to produce a 2.2-pound steak.

Let’s look at all the stages of beef production. The cow needs to eat grain. The grain and the cow need water to grow and stay alive. After three years, the cow is slaughtered, and the slaughterhouse needs to be cleaned.

One mouthwatering juicy steak = 3,091,000 liters of water!

1 kilo of chocolate requires 24,000 liters of water.1 piece of paper needs 10 liters. The World Counts

Middle-class consumers

In 2017 Earth had 3.5 billion middle-class consumers, i.e., people who have more than 10 USD to spend per day. The World Counts predicted there would be 5.5 billion consumers by 2030. Today the site counter shows 4.3 billion and counting.

You might think having extra money to spend after the essentials are taken care of is a good thing. On the one hand, it means fewer people live in poverty. However, it also means our consumer goods gobble up more natural resources and become waste once used.

“If we keep doing business as usual, we are facing an insurmountable water shortage — even if water was free, because it’s not a matter of price. There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today. There’s no time to waste. We need to act now,” Professor Benjamin Sovacool of Aarhus University, Denmark.

Seven liters of water go into making a plastic bottle for one liter (33.81 US fluid ounces of water (fl-oz)) of spring water. The Story of Stuff shares that many bottle water specimens proved lower quality to tap water. We essentially pay almost nothing for tap water, but cunning corporate marketeers have seduced us to keep their profits growing.

Flushing the toilet uses 6–10 liters (202.22–338.7 fl-oz) per flush. You might want to consider the adage: if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down. A family of four flush away the equivalent of a swimming pool or over 10,000 gallons every year. According to the American Water Works Association's conservative estimate, that only accounts for 27% of water use.

“American lawns guzzle 50–60% of US residential water consumption,” says Ora Chaiken of Water Smart Software. If you are curious to know how much it costs to water your lawn, compare your January and July water bills. Indoor consumption will remain pretty much the same for both months. Lawns account for nearly all outdoor water use in the US.

Do you think you could survive on 1 gallon of water a day? Better yet, what will you do to save money and water and help avert climate disasters that mean you have to survive on 1 gallon of water a day?

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.


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