One way to calculate an organization’s water footprint is to literally measure the water used at a facility or series of facilities—the buckets and beakers approach. This will likely give a very accurate calculation. But what happens when operations are far more complicated? Or what if you need to calculate how much water it takes to produce an item with thousands of parts, many made overseas by suppliers that may or may not provide water data?
LMI calculated the water footprint of the United States Army in 2012, the biggest water footprint analysis ever done in the world. This was achieved through data modeling and included much more than the water used at Army installations for washing, drinking, or bathing. This water footprint included every drop of water needed in order to make everything the Army needs to function, including civil works projects.
The Army, like many large organizations, has specific water usage goals. This is partly defined by Executive Order 13693 which states that water usage at federal facilities needs to be reduced by 2 percent annually through 2025. Army leadership needed to know what actions to take to achieve those goals. It wouldn’t be enough to switch over to low-flow showerheads.
The analysis showed that water used for washing, drinking, or bathing only amounted to about 12 percent of the total water used by the Army. Most water was used to produce Army items—from bullets to tanks to uniforms.
In addition, there was a need to analyze Army operations in cases where water might not be available. How resilient were Army operations in situations where fresh water was less available? What systems might need to be put in place as a Plan B for those situations?
How Large-Scale Water Footprint Data Modeling Works
Step 1: Gather purchasing data.
For the Army’s water footprint, the goal was to get a list of everything purchased in an average year. Some items are purchased less frequently than every year, so the initial data set was for ten years. From there, we determined an average year. Since all data isn’t located in one place, it was not easy to get the purchasing data for the whole Army. But LMI was able to gather data sets to put together a big picture.
Step 2: Look up how much water it takes to produce each item.
Amazingly, there is a tool provided publicly by the Center for Resilience at Ohio State University that gives the water footprint of many items. It pulls together data from many sources, and gets very specific. For example, it gives the water footprint for military materiel like tanks and rockets. It took a year to look up the more than a million items the Army had purchased.
Step 3: Analyze the civil works efforts.
Next, we gathered data on what the Army built in an average year, such as facilities or roads. We extrapolated from the budget to determine what was built and used other databases to determine how much water was needed to build the items.
Combining these calculations with the data about water used for washing, drinking, and bathing gave a big picture of the Army’s water footprint. Two years later, we completed a deeper dive analysis of the 35 items most commonly purchased by the Army.
The Army purchases items from companies located in almost every county in the United States. LMI completed a water risk analysis for every county, evaluating trends for floods, droughts, or other disasters over the past century, using Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other databases. We included climate change, sea-level, and population change data. Even places right beside the Great Lakes could be at risk when it comes to fresh water availability due to population growth exceeding investment in water infrastructure.
Every organization relies on water—whether it is to actually produce items or to keep its workforce healthy. While developing a water footprint and risk analysis is becoming just another part of doing business, there are also potential cost savings from reducing water use. Even if your operation doesn’t seem to be in a place with much risk due to water issues, water vulnerabilities in your raw materials or supply chain can interrupt operations.
Francis (Frank) Reilly has over 35 years of experience in environmental planning, policy development, and water issues. He has worked for and understands the differing needs of government agencies and private clients.