Skip to main content

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Aldaya M, Hoekstra A, Allan J (2008) Strategic importance of green water in international crop trade. Value of Water Research Report Series. 25. UNESCO: IHE, Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Allan JA (1993) Fortunately there are substitutes for water otherwise our hydro-political futures would be impossible. ODA, priorities for water resources allocation and management, ODA, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Allan JA (1994) Overall perspectives on countries and regions. In: Rogers P, Lydon P (eds) Water in the Arab world: perspectives and prognoses. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Allan JA (2003a) Virtual water eliminates water wars? A case study from the Middle East. Virtual water trade. In: Proceedings of the international expert meeting on virtual water trade. Values of Water Research Report Series n° 12. IHE, Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Allan JA (2003b). Personal communication in e-conference. (See World Water Council, 2004)

  • Berrittella M, Hoekstra A, Rehdanzc K, Rosond R, Tol R (2007) The economic impact of restricted water supply: a computable general equilibrium analysis. Water Res 41:1799–1813

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brabeck-Letmathe P (2009) The next big thing: H2O. Foreign Policy, abril 2009. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/04/15/the_next_big_thing_h20

  • Chapagain AK, Hoekstra AY (2003a) Virtual water flows between nations in relation to trade in livestock and livestock products. Value of Water Research Report Series 13. UNESCO: IHE, Institute for water education. Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Chapagain AK, Hoekstra AY (2003b) The water needed to have the Dutch drink tea. Value of water research report series. 15. UNESCO: IHE, Institute for water education. Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Chapagain AK, Hoekstra AY (2003c) The water needed to have the Dutch drink coffee. Value of water research report series. 14. UNESCO: IHE, Institute for water education. Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Chapagain AK, Hoekstra AY (2004) Water footprints of nations. Value of Water Research Report Series. 16. UNESCO: IHE, Institute for water education. Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Chapagain AK, Hoekstra AY (2008) The global component of freshwater demand and supply: an assessment of virtual water flows between nations as a result of trade in agricultural and industrial products. Water Int 33:19–32

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chapagain A, Orr S (2008) UK water footprint: the impact of the UK’s food and fibre consumption on global water resources. WWF-UK.

  • Chapagain A, Orr S (2009) An improved water footprint methodology linking global consumption to local water resources: a case of Spanish tomatoes. J Environ Manag 90:1219–1228

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chapagain A, Hoekstra A, Savenije H (2006a) Water saving through international trade of agricultural products. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 10:455–468

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chapagain A, Hoekstra A, Savenije H, Gautam R (2006b) The water footprint of cotton consumption: an assessment of the impact of worldwide consumption of cotton products on the water resources in the cotton producing countries. Ecol Econ 60:186–203

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dabrowski J, Masekoameng E, Ashton P (2008) Analysis of virtual water flows associated with the trade of maize in the SADC region: importance of scale. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 5:2727–2757

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dabrowski J, Murray K, Ashton P, Leaner J (2009) Agricultural impacts on water quality and implications for virtual water trading decisions. Ecol Econ 68:1074–1082

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • De Fraiture C, Cai X, Amarasinghe U, Rosegrant M, Molden D (2004) Does international cereal trade save water? The impact of virtual water trade on global water use. Comprehensive assessment of water management in agriculture. International Water Management Institute

  • Dietzenbacher E, Velázquez E (2007) Analyzing Andalusian virtual water trade in an input–output framework. Reg Stud 41(2):185–196

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Earle A, Turton A (2003) The virtual water trade amongst countries of the SADC. Virtual water trade. In: Proceedings of the international expert meeting on virtual water trade. Values of Water Research Report Series n° 12. IHE, Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • El-Fadel M, Maroun R (2003) The concept of ‘virtual water’ and its applicability in Lebanon. Virtual water trade. In: Proceedings of the international expert meeting on virtual water trade. Values of Water Research Report Series n° 12. IHE, Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Galán-del Castillo E, Velázquez E (2009) From water to energy: the virtual water content and the water footprint of biofuel consumption in Spain. Energ Policy. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2009.11.015

  • Galloway JM, Burke GM, Bradford E, Naylor R, Falcon W, Chapagain AK, Gaskell JC, McCullough E, Mooney HA, Oleson L, Steinfeld H, Wassenaar T, Smil V (2007). International trade in meat: the tip of the pork chop. Ambio 36(8):622–629

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gerbens-Leenes PW, Hoekstra AY (2008) The water footprint of bio-energy: Global water use for bio-ethanol, bio-diesel, heat and electricity. Value of Water Research Report Series. 34. UNESCO: IHE, Institute for water education, Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Gerbens-Leenes P, Hoekstra A, Van der Meer Th (2008) The water footprint of energy from biomass: a quantitative assessment and consequences of an increasing share of bio-energy in energy supply. Ecol Econ 68:1052–1060

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guan D, Hubacek K (2007) Assessment of regional trade and virtual water flows in China. Ecol Econ 61:159–170

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Haddadin M (2003) Exogenous water: a conduit to globalization of water resources. Virtual water trade. In: Proceedings of the international expert meeting on virtual water trade. Values of Water Research Report Series n° 12. IHE, Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoekstra AY (2003) Virtual water: an introduction. Virtual water trade. In: Proceedings of the international expert meeting on virtual water trade. Values of Water Research Report Series n° 12. IHE, Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoekstra AY, Hung PQ (2002) Virtual Water trade: a quantification of virtual water flows between nations in relation to crop trade. Value of Water Research Report Series. 11. UNESCO: IHE, Institute for water education, Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoekstra AY, Hung PQ (2005) Globalisation of water resources: international virtual water flows in relation to crop trade. Glob Environ Change 15:45–56

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoekstra AY, Chapagain AK (2007) Water footprints of nations: water use by people as a function of their consumption pattern. Water Resour Manag 21:35–48

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoekstra AY, Chapagain AK (2008) Globalization of water: sharing the planet’s freshwater resources. Blackwell, Osxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Islam MS, Oki T, Kanae S, Hanasaki N, Agata Y, Koshimura K (2007) A grid-based assessment of global water resource management water scarcity including virtual water trading. Water Resour Manag 21:19–33

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • King CW, Webber ME (2008) Water intensity of transportation. Environ Sci Tech 42(21):7866–7872

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kummar D, Singh O (2005) Virtual water in global food and water policy making: is there a need for rethinking? Water Resour Manag 19:759–789

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liu J, Savenije H (2008) Food consumption patterns and their effect on water requirement in China. Value of Water Research Report Series. 30. UNESCO: IHE, Institute for water education, Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu J, Williams J, Zehnder A, Yang H (2007) GEPIC—modelling wheat yield and crop water productivity with high resolution on a global scale. Agric Syst 94:478–493

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Llamas R (2008) Los colores del agua virtual, el agua virtual y los conflictos hídricos. Real Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Fisicas y Naturales. Magistral Lesson Academic Course 2005–2006.

  • Madrid C (2004) Agua Virtual: Un nuevo concepto para antiguos problemas. Aplicación del concepto de agua virtual a la exportación andaluza del tomate. Proyecto fin de carrera. Universidad Pablo de Olavide

  • Madrid C (2007) Hidratar el metabolismo socieconómico: los flujos de agua virtual y el metabolismo hídrico. Una aproximación al sector hortofrutícola andaluz. Tesis de Máster. Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona

  • Madrid C, Velázquez E (2008) El metabolismo hídrico y los flujos de agua virtual. Una aplicación al sector hortofrutícola de Andalucía (España). Rev Iberoam Econ Ecol 8:29–47

    Google Scholar 

  • Novo P, Garrido A, Varela-Ortega C (2009) Are virtual water “flows” in Spain grain trade consistent with relative water scarcity? Ecol Econ 68:1454–1464

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oki T, Kanae S (2004) Virtual water trade and world water resources. Water Sci Technol 49:203–209

    Google Scholar 

  • Oki T, Sato M, Kawamura A, Miyake M, Kanae S, Musiake K (2003) Virtual water trade to Japan and in the world. Virtual Water Trade. In: Proceedings of the international expert meeting on virtual water trade. Values of Water Research Report Series n° 12. IHE, Delft, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Portmann F, Siebert S, Döll P (2006) Global database of monthly crop-specific irrigated areas around the year 2000. In: Conference on international agricultural research for development. Bonn, Germany

    Google Scholar 

  • Rodríguez R, Garrido A, Llamas M, Varela C (2008) La Huella Hidrológica de la Agricultura Española. Papeles de Agua Virtual. Fundación Marcelino Botín

  • Savenije HHG (1998) The role of green water in food production in Sub-Saharan Africa. IPTRID/FAO. Article Prepared for FAO

  • Schuol J, Abbaspour K, Yang H, Srinivasan R, Zehnder A (2008) Modeling blue and green water availability in Africa. Water Resour Res doi:10.1029/2007WR006609

  • Sirajul Islam M, Oki T, Kanae S, Hanasaki N, Agata Y, Yoshimura Y (2007) A grid-based assessment of global water scarcity including virtual water trading. Water Resour Manag 21:19–33

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Oel P, Mekonnen M, Hoekstra A (2009) The external water footprint of The Netherlands: geographycally-explicit quantification and impact assesment. Ecol Econ 69(1):82–92

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vatn A (2005) Institutions and the environment. Edward Elgar, Northampton

    Google Scholar 

  • Velázquez E (2006) An input–output model of water consumption: analysing intersectoral water relationships in Andalusia. Ecol Econ 56:226–240

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Velázquez E (2007) Water trade in Andalusia: an alternative way to management water demand. Ecol Econ 63(1):201–208

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Velázquez E (2008) El agua virtual. Una manera alternativa de gestionar los usos del agua”. Cuides 1:61–79

    Google Scholar 

  • Velázquez E (2009) El agua virtual, la huella hídrica y el binomio agua-energía: repensando los conceptos. Fundación Ecología y Desarrollo. Boletín Ecodes, marzo 2009

  • Wang Y, Xiao H, Wang R (2009) Water scarcity and water use in economic systems in Zhangye City, Northwestern China. Water Resour Manag. doi:10.1007/s11269-009-9401-x

  • Wichelns D (2001) The role of virtual water in efforts to achieve food security and other national goals, with an example from Egypt. Agric Water Manag 49:131–151

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yang H, Zehnder A (2002) Water scarcity and food import: a case study for Southern Mediterranean Countries. World Dev 30:1413–1430

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yang H, Reichert P, Abbaspour KC, Zehnder JB (2003) A water resources threshold and its implications for food security. Virtual water trade. In: Proceedings of the international expert meeting on virtual water trade. Values of Water Research Report Series n° 12. IHE, Delft, Holanda

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhao X, Chen B, Yang Z (2009) National water footprint in an input–output framework. A case study of China 2002. Ecol Model 220:245–253

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zimmer D, Renault D (2003) Virtual water in food production and global trade review of methodological issues and preliminary results. Virtual water trade. In: Proceedings of the International Expert Meeting on Virtual Water Trade. Values of Water Research Report Series n° 12. IHE, Delft, Holanda

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Esther Velázquez.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Velázquez, E., Madrid, C. & Beltrán, M.J. Rethinking the Concepts of Virtual Water and Water Footprint in Relation to the Production–Consumption Binomial and the Water–Energy Nexus. Water Resour Manage 25, 743–761 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-010-9724-7

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-010-9724-7

Keywords

  • Virtual water
  • Water footprint
  • Water management
  • Water and energy nexus