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A wake-up call on water use

A long-running resource issue finally trickles down to more consumers.

An aqueduct carries water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to southern California.

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Move over, carbon, the next shoe to drop in the popular awareness of eco-issues is the “water footprint.”

That’s the word in environmental circles these days. Just as the image of a heavy carbon foot made it possible for the masses to grasp the power of carbon-dioxide emissions, water footprint is the phrase now drawing attention to the impact of human behavior regarding water.

“H2O is the next CO2,” says Nicholas Eisenberger, managing principal of GreenOrder, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable business. As a phrase, water footprint “will probably move more quickly through the public mind as it catches on,” he says, because water is more tangible than carbon.

Measuring how much water an individual, business, or government uses is a concept everyone can viscerally relate to, he adds, “because they put their hands on it every day, which is not the case, necessarily, with carbon.”

Why is “water footprint” coming to the fore now? And why does what is arguably humanity’s most vital resource need what some call a gimmick to connect people with its importance?

“You can’t control what you don’t measure,” says Laura Shenkar, principal of the Artemis Project, a water consulting firm. People take water for granted, she says, but the growing talk about climate change inevitably includes water. And recent droughts in the usually verdant southeastern United States have helped bring the issue to public attention.

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