We're bad at water conservation, if this study is anything to go by. I've had this article on the back burner for a while, until inspiration should hit me - and it finally has.
The thing here is, the hidden water costs are in things like making the fertiliser to produce the grapes or the feed for the beef, in processing those products, and then delivering them to us. But these things recycle. Eventually, all that water circulates back.
The trick for us is not to take it out faster than it can trickle back into the system. That, and the fact that a good percentage of that water that fell on the grapes or the feed for the stock, would have fallen anyway, and produced no benefit to us at all, had we not fortuitiously had a farm underneath it...
Once you realise that, the water footprint becomes a bit less of a scandal and a bit more of a "what can we do to reduce it?"
It's another example of blowing something up out of proportion. Yes a decent steak may have cost 100 litres of water to produce - but if you didn't create the demand for it by eating it, I estimate that 75 litres of that water would still have gone around the cycle anyway. So whoopee.
Those people who have a smaller water footprint are also invariably living in poverty and squalor. Don't forget that. They have no choice but to forego that steak. And if you counted how much water per person went through the aquifers and the hydrological cycle, I'm sure you'd find that this figure depends on the rainfall and water flows for the region, not the profligate lifestyles of the population.
I wonder how much of a headline that would make? "Australia has a lower population density than almost anywhere else in the world" sounds a lot less exciting that saying "AUSTRALIANS ARE THE WORST WATER WASTERS IN THE WOOOOOOOORLD!"
Sensationalising something doesn't make you an environmental crusader, just a tosser.