Water Resources Management

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 743–761

Rethinking the Concepts of Virtual Water and Water Footprint in Relation to the Production–Consumption Binomial and the Water–Energy Nexus

  • Esther Velázquez
  • Cristina Madrid
  • María J. Beltrán

DOI: 10.1007/s11269-010-9724-7

Cite this article as:
Velázquez, E., Madrid, C. & Beltrán, M.J. Water Resour Manage (2011) 25: 743. doi:10.1007/s11269-010-9724-7


In the field of Ecological Economics, the need of using physical indicators to analyse economic processes, at the same time they serve as tools in decision making, has been lately highlighted. Virtual Water (VW) and Water Footprint (WF) are two useful indicators in achieving this objective, the first one from the perspective of production, the second one from that of consumption. This difference between them is interesting inasmuch as it allows to identify the subjects who are responsible for water consumption, whether producers or consumers, and proves both indicators’ potential when designing water management policies. In this work, we consider a hypothesis according to which there is a clear difference between the two concepts—Virtual Water and Water Footprint—and this difference, although evident in their respective conceptualizations, is not reflected in their estimations and applications. This is true to the point that the two concepts are often used as synonyms, thus wasting the enormous potential associated to their difference. Starting from this hypothesis, our objective is, first of all, to highlight this evident but ignored difference between VW and WF through a deep and thorough literature review of the conceptual definitions and contributions, the methodologies developed and the applications made regarding the two concepts. Second, we intend to make a conceptual and methodological proposition aimed at underlining the differences already mentioned and to identify responsibilities in water consumption. We do it by broadening the context of analysis and by integrating the production–consumption binomial and water–energy nexus.


Virtual water Water footprint Water management Water and energy nexus 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Esther Velázquez
    • 1
  • Cristina Madrid
    • 2
  • María J. Beltrán
    • 3
  1. 1.Economics DepartmentPablo de Olavide UniversitySevilleSpain
  2. 2.Applied Economy DepartmentAutonomous University of BarcelonaBellaterra Cerdanyola del VallésSpain
  3. 3.Institute for Environmental Sciences and Technologies (ICTA)Autonomous University of Barcelona, ICTA-University of BarcelonaBellaterra (Barcelona)Spain

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