November 2015
Research Location: 

Questions regarding California's water security have drawn public attention to the equivalent volume of water required to produce a unit of foodcrop, such as the often cited gallon of water required to produce an almond, or five gallons to produce a head of broccoli[1]. Similar to the concept of a carbon footprint, this “water footprint” has emerged as a useful tool for quantifying and comparing the water demand of various goods and activities.

A water footprint (WF) is defined as the volume of water consumed to produce a good or render a service, calculated over the entire supply chain of the product[2]. Consumption, refers to any use of water, that renders it unavailable for reuse within the area of interest. Some of the ways that water can be consumed include incorporation into the product or service, or conversion to grey water through inputs of pollution. The WF can be calculated on various spatial scales, from the footprint of an individual, to a collective footprint of the entire world.

This project aims to produce an extensible, open-source software tool to calculate water footprints of agricultural activities across variable regions of interest. The tool will incorporate the wealth of environmental data available in California and establish methods that allow for application in novel regions. Informed water management is essential, as increasing pressures are placed on global freshwater supplies, and water footprints are one of many means that can assist with data-driven decision making.

This project is in a preliminary stage of development, with California irrigation districts as the initial regions of interest.


[1]Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011), “The green, blue and grey water footprint of crops and derived crop products”

[2]Hoekstra, A.Y., Chapagain, A.K., Aldaya, M.M. and Mekonnen, M.M. (2011), “The water footprint assessment manual: Setting the global standard”