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Champaign-Urbana, Illinois Water Supply

A public radio special

Episode 4

How much water do we use?

In this four-part public radio special report Bill investigates the origins of the Champaign-Urbana Water supply. He looks at where our water comes from, how much water we have in the ground, how we should best manage that water supply, and how much water we use every day - including water we import from China!

Episode 4

Bill Hammack follows his wife, Amy, through her morning routine to show how an average American uses 1800 gallons of water a day. This includes not only water used for domestic uses (toliets, cooking, hygine), but also water used in manfacturing. Since most of the items in our houses are imported from around the globe, this means that we tap into water supplies around the world, especially China.


Bill This final episode on my four-part series on water asks the question how do we really use water. To do this I take a novel and somewhat dangerous approach.

Bill It's six-thirty in the morning on a beautiful spring day. I'm going to wake my wife Amy.

Amy "I'm sleeping ... stop it!"

Bill She's not a morning person at all, yet I'm going to risk following her today to solve a mystery: Where does 1800 gallons of water a day go? Listen carefully because its hidden through her morning routine - it even includes water from China!

Bill Of course there's the evident/standard uses of water for personal hygiene, but pay attention to the next non-obvious water-consuming steps.

Bill "What are you wearing today?"

Amy "Clothes?"

Bill Again, not a morning person. She puts on a cotton shirt, pants, and leather shoes. Then down to the kitchen to have breakfast and a cup of of coffee, which helps socialize her in the morning. Next she packs a lunch.

Amy "Sandwich .. roast beast ... and an apple."

Bill Then off to class. This mundane routine used nearly 2000 gallons of water. Let's go over it looking for explicit and hidden uses of water.

Bill There's the obvious uses of water ... An American uses each day 120 gallons for hygiene, drinking, and cooking. To conserve this water requires changes in personal behavior and improvements in technology. Derek Winstanley, head of the Illinois State Water Survey, explains the first.

Winstanley "Every time you turn on the facet you can make sure you turn it off when you're not actually taking water, you know, if you turn your back to the facet in the kitchen, turn if off rather than leaving it running. You can take somewhat shorter showers. You can use less water irrigating your lawn. You can use less water cleaning your car. So every time you use water you can be conscientious and use some what less water."

Bill In addition a home owner should fix running toilets, dripping facets, and use low-flow toilets and shower heads. Still, that 120 gallons day represents only about seven percent of our water consumption of eighteen hundred gallons. Let's continue looking for that missing 1600 gallons.

Bill To produce that small amount of milk used on my wife's cereal took an astonishing fifty-seven gallons of water. To reach the point where a cow makes six ounces of milk requires water for crops, for sustaining the animal, and for cleaning her stall.... The same for Amy's cup of coffee. It uses, of course, water from tap, but making the coffee beans required forty gallons of water. And the lunch she packed used hundreds of gallons too.

Amy "Sandwich .. roast beast ... and an apple."

Bill The bread in her sandwich took about eleven gallons per slice, the apple about nineteen gallons. And if you drink apple juice it takes fifty gallons to make six ounces of juice. Now just a bit under half - 45% - of the apple juice in the U.S. comes from ... China. Yet not only food, but every manufactured article in our homes uses water in its production. This means that, in a sense, much of our water comes from China! Recall the cotton shirt my wife put on: 528 gallons of water to produce; the leather shoes, an astonishing 2,112 gallons. Now, of course, one wears a shirt or shoes many, many times. So, we need to average over time. For a U.S. citizen that amounts to 1800 gallons a day, of which they consume 120 gallons domestically, and the rest for producing the food and products we use. So, while we must keep an eye on managing domestic supplies like the Mahomet Aquifer, we must also think globally to understand the true economic, social and environmental costs of water.