Professor John Anthony Allan of the University of London in Britain won the award for introducing the concept of "virtual water," a calculation method that has changed the nature of trade policy and research.
The Stockholm International Water Institute said this idea is now imbedded in the production of foods and industrial products.
"People do not only consume water when the drink it or take a shower," the institute said.
"Behind that morning cup of coffee, there are 140 liters of water that was consumed to grow, produce, package and ship the beans."
That is about as much water as a person in England uses on average for all daily drinking and household needs.
"For a single hamburger, an estimated 2,400 liters of water are needed. In the USA, the average person consumes nearly 7,000 liters of virtual water every day." It said that was more than three times the average consumption of a Chinese person.
The U.N. Climate Panel has said the world faces strains on fresh water supplies linked to global warming.
In a report last year, it projected that 250 million people in Africa could suffer more water shortages by 2020, while a quickening thaw of Himalayan glaciers could disrupt flows on which millions of people in Asia depend.
The institute said Allan's work had made a big impact on global trade policy and research, especially in water-scarce regions.
"The improved understanding of trade and water management issues on local, regional and global scales are of the highest relevance for the successful and sustainable use of water resources," the nominating committee said in its citation.
Allan, from King's College of the University of London and the School of Oriental and African Studies, has authored or edited seven books and published more than 100 papers.
(Editing by Matthew Jones)