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Governor Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency for the state of California. 2013 was the driest year in the state’s history – since records started being kept about 100 years ago. State water reservoirs are critically low and farmers, lawmakers, and environmentalists’ growing concerns have gone from a slow drip to a raging storm. Activists and farmers recently joined forces and came in droves from the Central Valley to rally on the capitol steps in Sacramento, demanding action as water levels drop and anxiety levels rise.

California residents have been asked to be vigilant and cut back on household water use, but only about 4 percent of California’s water footprint is individual, personal use. A stunning 80 percent goes to agriculture, according to a recent report from the NRDC and Pacific Institute, so if we really want to talk about drastic conservation, perhaps we should look at our food choices.

Who’s Really Using all the Water?

Of the foods produced in the Golden State, the thirstiest by far are those that are derived from animals. Household impact is a trickle compared to the flood of water needed to produce meat, dairy, and eggs, especially when compared to plant foods. For example, a study at Cornell University found that producing one pound of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing one pound of grain protein. Another study adds to the overflow of evidence finding that the amount of water needed to produce one pound of beef is almost 1,600 gallons, compared to just 102 gallons for a pound of wheat.

Humans drink less than one gallon of water per day, but a cow can drink up to 23 gallons of water a day, according to a North Dakota State University study. That’s a huge amount of water to keep millions of animals alive.

Hidden Water Wasted in Livestock Production

Not only does it take vast amounts of water to hydrate the animals, millions of additional gallons of fresh water go to irrigate the feed for livestock, to wash excrement off the concrete floors, to clean the blood and grease from the equipment in the butchering process, and further uses that are not necessary in plant food production. For example, a dairy operation that utilizes an automatic flushing system can use up to 150 gallons of water per cow, per day, the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Services reports.

The crops we have chosen to quickly fatten up our farm animals are wasting water as well. Corn and soybeans, which represent the vast majority of livestock’s diet, are comparably cheap as a result of government subsidies. However, these crops are also exogenous; they have a deeper thirst for water than endogenous crops, which are dormant in the warm summer months when there is a high demand for water. Exogenous crops like corn and soy require more water and are therefore yet another drain on an already wasteful system of processing animal products, as a study published in Water Policy reveals.

Most people shower every day an average of about seven minutes of hot water with the showerhead flowing out about two gallons of water a minute. The Water Education Foundation calculates that every pound of California beef requires about 2,464 gallons of water to produce. You would save more water just by replacing a pound of beef with plant foods than you would by not showering for six months!

People are looking to grass-fed beef as a possible eco-alternative to commercial operations, but the grass is no greener for grass-fed animals. In fact, pasture raised animals require more water than their factory farmed cousins, because they have a higher activity level and spend more time in the sun, especially during the summer months. Grass-fed beef can also produce 50 to 60 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than their grain-eating counterparts, sometimes producing as much as four times more methane emissions than feedlot cattle, reports Science News.

Ending Water Waste Starts With You

California families are concerned and ready to take action. Responsible citizens will be taking shorter showers, shutting off the water while brushing their teeth, and only washing clothes with a full load. But what most people don’t know is the much greater impact of their diet.

Each of us has an opportunity to take action that could cut our water waste far more than any household use by reducing or eliminating animal products from our diet. It takes less water to produce one year’s worth of food for a completely plant-based diet than it does to produce one month’s worth of food for a diet with animal products.

As Californians, we know it’s healthy to eat more veggieswhole grainsbeans, and fruits. We also know that animals are suffering — living miserable, short lives in filthy, confined conditions, being cruelly treated, and brutally slaughtered. Now, we have a statewide crisis and could run out of one of life’s absolute necessities: fresh, clean water.

It may be more abstract than just turning off the tap, but the foods we choose impact our water supply. Eating more veggies, fruits and grains, and reducing or eliminating our consumption of meat, milk, and eggs will help your family decrease their environmental footprint, get healthy, help animals, and preserve enough fresh water for generations of Californians to come.

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258 comments on “California’s Drought — Who’s Really Using all the Water?”

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Jeffrey Dowling
1 Years Ago

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Tyler Ribeiro
1 Years Ago

Let’s step back for a second and look at facts for a moment instead of throwing out blind statements that can be misleading.

Fact 1) Dairy farms and beef producers have been recycling water before recycling was a coined buzz word. For example, on a dairy farm it takes fresh water to cool the milk before it is transferred to the creameries in order to reduce the chance of spoilage before it arrives. But the same water that is used to cool the milk is then used to wash the milk barn. After it is used for washing the barn the water is then used to flush the lanes of the barns that the cows are in. That water is then reclaimed again and is used numerous times for the same purpose until it is finally used to irrigate the fields that grow the crops that the cattle eat. This process not only allows a dairy farm to not only re-use water, cutting costs and helping the environment, but it also can eliminate the use of commercial fertilizer.

Fact 2) Cows do not live a short, abusive, sad life. That is a horrible thing to say. But coming from someone that is not around cattle on a daily basis and are just spewing thoughts that they have in their head, I understand the concern. There are a few terrible video clips circulating the internet that to absolutely everyone’s horror has occurred. This is not an everyday occurrence nor is it condoned by the rest of the dairy farmers in the United States. This being said, it would be irrational to assume that since a couple of bad people (that should go to jail) did bad things, that everyone is the same. That would be like assuming that everyone that has kids beat them because I saw someone do it on the news. Or that everyone that has a pet mistreats them because someone told us about an occurrence. There is no logic in that nor is that truth.

Let me assure you that happy cows make more milk. It is IMPERATIVE that these animals are as happy as possible or a dairy is losing money. Why would anyone want to lose money? Dairy farms are constantly trying to find ways to add comfort and alleviate the animals stress.

Now I have some questions for everyone to think about
1) How much water is used on everyone’s yards every day and what do we as a society get from you watering your lawn? Does it benefit any ones wellbeing or health?
2) Water used for cattle production has health benefits that are seen around the world. Who is your yard benefiting besides yourself?

This article has gotten one thing right that I must agree with, water conservation starts with us as a community. We all need to do our part to save water, but we need to make informed decisions based on fact.

Mellisa Jefferson
1 Years Ago

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Orchid Girl
1 Years Ago

Millions of gallon are used daily for fracking. Fracking not only causes drought, but also causes all of the earthquakes.



1 Years Ago

I am embarrassed for the vegans who again are so desperate for the rest of our acceptance that now even the water shortage must be laid at the feet of meat eaters. Wise up, grazers and cud chewers. Every year there is a flood somewhere in the Mississippi Valley that could be pumped into a giant TVA-like lake in the Rockies for use in the whole West. Instead, it flows down to the Mississippi and out to sea. Also, consider all the stored energy that could be recovered from such a resource if ever constructed. This is way too big of a project for Americans who are shamed by eating veggie-burgers and tofu. I feel your pain.

Juan Martinez-Pineda
1 Years Ago

Wasting Water
In “Who’s Really Using All Water?” One Green Planet blogger Bohanec (2014) seemed to show that farmers do waste more water by feeding animals and for plants. “Humans drink less than one gallon of water per day, but a cow can drink up to 23 gallons of water per day, according to a North Dakota State University Study”(Bohanec, 2014 Para. 4). Now as for humans we waste more water than the animals. By the reason that mostly some animals are being killed by humans in order to have as many produce to eat. This goes the same for plants of how using plants to eat or add recipe on the food. Many readers would want to go more in depth of what can be wasting more water as for farmers or humans.
As I use to live in California I know that as an average human can use much water on a daily basis. Since, for a person uses water to start cooking, than can use it to bath, and care for the environment to water the plants/lawn. According to Sanburn, (2015) the amount of water use is about 80-100 gallons through a day of water by including drinking, bathing, cleaning, and using for lawns. I think that mostly it is right to shorten the usage of water in order to maintain a great life.

Scott Erickson
1 Years Ago

LOL - Also read here. The cow that drinks the most is Nestle - The cash cow that is. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/08/bottled-water-california-drought

Mrs Margaret McAlister
01 Jun 2015

I agree I read the article about Nestle taking all the water to sell as bottled water, but now they are trying to demonise animals for drinking to much, I recon that humans waste more water than animals.

1 Years Ago

What REALLY happened to Los Angeles water?.............READ HERE
The average fracked well in California used 166,714 gallons of water, according to a 2013 Ceres report
According to Clean Water Action (CWA), fracking poses many risks for California\'s water supply since a single frack well can use upwards of hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of water. Additionally, CWA second\'s EWG\'s report that fracking could pollute groundwater supplies in the state.[43] http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php…

[email protected]
12 Apr 2015

The idea that fracking accounts for anywhere near the agriculture use (particularly by the meat and dairy industry) has been debunked--fracking accounts for not even 1% of California water use. Read this article, and then read the comments below for the percentage of water fracking uses in comparison.


1 Years Ago

Goodwill and education alone won\'t solve this problem. We need a strong financial incentive to bring about the change we so greatly need.


Otherwise, we\'re screwed.

Debra Lane
1 Years Ago

Why aren\'t you talking about golf courses??? According to the LA Times, golf courses use more water in Southern California than anyone else! http://www.latimes.com/visuals/graphics/la-me-g-golf-water-by-the-numbers-20141212-htmlstory.html

08 Apr 2015

Many golf courses use recycled water for landscaping along with City landscaping

Karen Call
12 Apr 2015

Because golf courses don\'t constitute anywhere near the amount of water use that the meat and dairy industry uses. See the comprehensive water use infographic created by TruthorDrought.com with data from the 2012 California Pacific Institute study:


21 Apr 2015

California\'s Central Valley Farmers use 80+% of the water in California, they are the ones causing the drought. CA Farmers will not invest in water technology that will save water they prefer to waste it.

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