GEOG 30
Geographic Perspectives on Sustainability and Human-Environment Systems

Learning Activity: Water Tracking and Usage

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Where does my water come from?

Global patterns of resource consumption are highly uneven. Let’s look at an example of water resources distribution. The following two maps display the global disparity of water resources using cartograms. In cartograms, the shapes of geographic regions are distorted so that the areas such as countries appear in proportion to the measurement of a variable such as population. The two cartograms below display the size of the world’s countries proportional to 1) their freshwater availability, and 2) their water use. Which are the regions that have most water? Which countries have the highest water use?

 Map of the world in different colors. Country sizes vary based on fresh water availability. South America, and South East Asia is large, Africa is small, all others are normal size
Figure 4.2 Freshwater Availability (click on image for larger version).
Credit: Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).
 Map of the world in different colors. Country sizes are based on water use. South America and Africa are very small, Russia, India, Japan and the US are large, most others are slightly larger than normal
Figure 4.3 Water Use: (for domestic, agricultural, and industrial purposes) (click on image for larger version).
Credit: Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).

What is even more important is per capita water consumption: While the world average is approximately 36 gallons per person per day, the average US water consumption per person per day is roughly 158 gallons (600 liters). The following bar graph from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) illustrates dramatic imbalance in per capita water use between industrialized countries and developing countries.

Graph of daily water usage per person. Industrialized countries like use 575 liters/person/day. Developing countries like Mozambique only use 10 liters/person/day
Figure 4.4: Average Daily Water Usage Per Person
Click link to expand for a text description of Figure 4.4
Graph of daily water usage per person. Industrialized countries like the USA use 575 liters/person/day. Developing countries like Mozambique only use 10 liters/person/day
Credit: UNDP Human Development Report 2006

Learning Activity Directions

Part I: Create your main entry

Part 1-a: In the first paragraph of 150-200 words, describe the water supply chain in your hometown, as it moves from its source to the tap and from the drain to its disposal. As you move through Parts 1-b and 1-c, keep the sources and destinations of your water in mind, and think of how these issues connect.

You may contact the local municipal water company, conduct a short windshield survey, or interview relevant community/university members. Understanding where your water comes from and where it goes is an important component of being a responsible consumer. The supply chain can significantly impact both the availability and quality of water in your area.

University Park students: Use the water supply of your hometown, not that of State College.

Part 1-b: For ONE day, keep track of all the activities in which you use or consume water. Please take one specific day and give your best estimate on your average use. Estimate and list the amount used for each activity and then calculate the total daily usage from your data. Present your water usage in a list or chart.

You may look up average water use for different activities such as flushing toilets, showering and so on at USGS or CSG Network.

Part 1-c: Imagine that you live in an area where water is a restricted resource (some of you may already!). Make an attempt to live on TWO gallons of water for ONE day (that’s the average of a person in Mozambique and Haiti).

In the second paragraph of 150-200 words, you should

  1. identify areas of water use in the experiment (e.g., cooking, drinking, etc.);
  2. describe priorities you set for water use in the experiment;
  3. describe strategies you used to cut down water footprint in the experiment;
  4. describe if the experiment of living on two gallons in a day succeeded or failed;
  5. discuss how this experience compares to your Part 1-b;
  6. explain how geography matters to water use (this may be a good time to engage concepts/terms from the module!)

Post your response

To post your Learning Activity response, go to the Module 4 Learning Activity: Water Tracking & Usage Forum in Canvas.

  • Select Reply from the instructor's original post.
  • Copy/paste your initial/original response to the Learning Activity into the text box from a saved Word document (to prevent losing work if the page refreshes, etc.).
  • Select Post Reply. Your response is now visible to your classmates and your instructor. Check in to the discussion forum often throughout the week to post and respond to comments and questions.

Part II: Read and comment on other students' entries

Read other students' entries

After Part I has been completed, module 4 entries from all students will be available to view. Read through entries by about 20 other students, and respond by writing comments for two of these student entries. Please choose students whose entries have fewer comments. Also, pick students whose entries are interesting to you for any reason.

Post a comment

Post a comment on the two entries you have chosen. Briefly, introduce yourself. Then respond to their entry in some way. You might compare and contrast your water usage experience with theirs. You might explain why their entries caught your interest, or talk about what course concepts their post caused you to think about. Your responses must be polite and respectful, and they should reference course concepts. 

The comment should be 4-6 sentences long.

To post a comment on TWO of your classmates' Learning Activities, go to the Module 4 Learning Activity: Water Tracking & Usage Forum in Canvas and follow these steps with TWO Learning Activity posts:

  • Select Reply from a student’s Learning Activity post.
  • Copy/paste your response into the text box from a saved Word document (to prevent losing work if the page refreshes, etc.).
  • Select Post Reply. Your response is now visible to your classmates and your instructor. Check in to the discussion forum often throughout the week to post and respond to comments and questions.

Grading Criteria

You will be graded on the quality of your participation. See the Grading Rubric for specifics on how this assignment will be graded (accessible through “Resources” >> "Grading Rubric").