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What Is a Water Footprint?


It takes just over 2,000 gallons of water a day to keep the average American’s lifestyle afloat. That’s because everything we use, wear, eat, or buy takes water to make. A product’s water footprint consists of the volume of water from soils, rivers, and groundwater consumed in making it, plus the water needed to absorb the pollutants from manufacturing. So the water footprint of a cotton T-shirt consists of the water from rainfall and irrigation consumed in growing the cotton plant, plus the water needed at the shirt-making factory, plus the water needed to dilute the factory’s pollution. Applying a consistent methodology, the Water Footprint Network—a collaboration of companies, organizations, and individuals aimed at promoting smarter use of water—has developed water footprint estimates for many common products.

The Rediscovery of Water Stewarding the Earth’s Water

States of Innovation

The front facade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC.

Agenda for America

A collection of resources to help federal, state, and local decision-makers set an achievable agenda for all Americans

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Data-driven policymaking is not just a tool for finding new solutions for emerging challenges, it makes government more effective and better able to serve the public interest. In the coming months, President Joe Biden and the 117th Congress will tackle a number of environmental, health, public safety, and fiscal and economic issues—nearly all of them complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help solve specific, systemic problems in a nonpartisan fashion, Pew has compiled a series of briefings and recommendations based on our research, technical assistance, and advocacy work across America.