Spatially explicit analysis of water footprints in the UK

The Water Footprint, as an indicator of water consumption has become increasingly popular for analyzing environmental issues associated with the use of water resources in the global supply chain of consumer goods. This is particularly relevant for countries like the UK, which increasingly rely on products produced elsewhere in the world and thus impose pressures on foreign water resources. Existing studies calculating water footprints are mostly based on process analysis, and results are mainly available at the national level. The current paper assesses the domestic and foreign water requirements for UK final consumption by applying an environmentally extended multi-regional input-output model in combination with geo-demographic consumer segmentation data. This approach allows us to calculate water footprints (both direct and indirect) for different products as well as different geographies within the UK. We distinguished between production and consumption footprints where the former is the total water consumed from the UK domestic water resources by the production activities in the UK and the latter is the total water consumed from both domestic and global water resources to satisfy the UK domestic final consumption. The results show that the production water footprint is 439 m3/cap/year, 85% of which is for the final consumption in the UK itself. The average consumption water footprint of the UK is more than three times bigger than the UK production water footprint in 2006. About half of the UK consumption water footprints were associated with imports from Non-OECD countries (many of which are water-scarce), while around 19% were from EU-OECD countries, and only 3% from Non-EU-OECD countries. We find that the water footprint differs considerably across sub-national geographies in the UK, and the differences are as big as 273 m3/cap/year for the internal water footprint and 802 m3/cap/year for the external water footprint. Our results suggest that this is mainly explained by differences in the average income level across the UK. We argue that the information provided by our model at different spatial scales can be very useful for informing integrated water supply and demand side management.

Siu YL; Feng K; Hubacek K; Minx J; Chapagain A; Yu Y; Guan D; Barrett J (2011) , Water, 3(1), 47-63