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Potential Impacts of Food Production on Freshwater Availability Considering Water Sources

Yano, Shinjiro, Hanasaki, Naota, Itsubo, Norihiro, Oki, Taikan
Water 2016 v.8 no.4
cropland, food production, freshwater, groundwater, hydrologic cycle, imports, inventories, life cycle impact assessment, rain, surface water, water footprint, water shortages
We quantify the potential impacts of global food production on freshwater availability (water scarcity footprint; WSF) by applying the water unavailability factor (fwua) as a characterization factor and a global water resource model based on life cycle impact assessment (LCIA). Each water source, including rainfall, surface water, and groundwater, has a distinct fwua that is estimated based on the renewability rate of each geographical water cycle. The aggregated consumptive water use level for food production (water footprint inventory; WI) was found to be 4344 km3/year, and the calculated global total WSF was 18,031 km3 H<inf>2</inf>Oeq/year, when considering the difference in water sources. According to the fwua concept, which is based on the land area required to obtain a unit volume of water from each source, the calculated annual impact can also be represented as 98.5 × 106 km2. This value implies that current agricultural activities requires a land area that is over six times larger than global total cropland. We also present the net import of the WI and WSF, highlighting the importance of quantitative assessments for utilizing global water resources to achieve sustainable water use globally.