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8 Shocking Facts About Water Consumption

8 Shocking Facts About Water Consumption

Water is a finite resource. And its preciousness has been driven home by water wars in California, where record drought has agricultural users, fracking interests and home consumers vying for the same supply; in the southwest where the water levels in the rivers, aquifers and reservoirs that provide waters to major communities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are dropping; and in the battles being fought over withdrawing water from the Great Lakes. Reducing our water footprint is essential to conserving this life-giving substance.

"The saying that 'nothing is free' applies more to water than anything else we consume, considering just three percent of the world's water is drinkable and that we are using more of it than ever before."
Photo credit: Shutterstock

We actually have two water footprints: direct and indirect. Many of us are familiar with direct water-use footprint, and mat already be taking steps to reduce it: taking shorter showers, not letting the water run while we're brushing our teeth, doing fewer loads of laundry, flushing the toilet less often or even installing low-flush toilets.

We probably don't think of our indirect water footprint often if at all, which involved the water used to make the products and services we use. Author Stephen Leahy, an Ontario-based environmental journalist, wrote about some of them in his book Your Water Footprint: The Spublished earlier this year.

"A 'water footprint' is the amount of fresh water used to produce the goods and services we consume, including growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping," he says. "From the foods we eat to the clothes we wear to the books we read and the music we listen to, all of it costs more than what we pay at the checkout."

Here are some things you can do to reduce your indirect water footprint.

1. Leahy reveals that 95 percent of our water footprint is hidden in our meals. While a pound of lettuce costs about 15 gallons of freshwater and a slice of bread only 10 gallons, chocolate can cost an astronomical 2,847 gallons a pound and beef can run us 2,500 gallons. Given that raising livestock is particularly water-intensive, eating vegetarian is one good way to reduce your water footprint. Better yet, go vegan: all animal products, including cheese, eggs, butter and milk take a lot of water to produce. Chicken has a much lower water footprint than beef though, so even giving up red meat can help.

2. Think about what you drink. Tell people you're passing on the soft drink and going for a beer because its water footprint is lower. And it is. A beer takes about 20 gallons of water to create, while soft drinks can be close to 50, depending on packaging and what sugars are used. And drink tea instead of coffee. Coffee consumes about 37 gallons of water in the production process, tea takes only 9 gallons.

3. The clothes we wear also consume vast amounts of freshwater to produce with cotton T-shirts and denim jeans exceptionally high in water use. One pound of cotton requires 700 gallons of water. Shop secondhand, thrift and vintage stores, or buy well-made clothes intended to last.

4. Actually, buying to last is a good way to reduce water consumption in general. Virtually all manufactured products consume a lot of water in the process. To manufacture a smartphone requires 240 gallons of water. Do you really need to trade in your phone every time a new model comes out?

5. Take public transportation (or better yet walk.) Not only do cars consume tens of thousands of gallons of water during manufacturing, but the gas required to run them uses more than a gallon of water for each gallon of gas.

6. Don't install or use a garbage disposal. It's water intensive. Compost instead.

7. Cut your plastic use! Making one pound of plastic requires 24 gallons of water. Use less and recycle what you can. Look for items with less packaging.

8. If you have a garden, install rain barrels to conserve water instead using that hose. Rain barrels hook up to your downspouts and collect rain water to reuse. You can make one from a 55-gallon drums (more recycling) and a easy-to-find little hardware. There's a big movement among artists to paint rain barrels so that you can also have a distinctive and colorful work of art outside your house.

"The saying that 'nothing is free' applies more to water than anything else we consume, considering just three percent of the world's water is drinkable and that we are using more of it than ever before," says Leahy. "Many experts predict dire water shortages if we continue on our current path. Factor in climate change, population growth and pollution and we have an unsustainable situation."

There's lots more information about your water footprint and what you can do to reduce it at WaterFootprint.org. They even have a calculator so you can figure out your own water footprint.

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Sustainable t-shirts by Allbirds are made from a new, low-carbon material that uses a mineral extract from discarded snow crab shells. Jerry Buttles / Allbirds

In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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