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

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Juan Martinez-Pineda
4 Days 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
9 Days 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

20 Days 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.


21 Days 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
23 Days 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.

25 Days ago

Where is the water going - illegal grow operations.

Julie Phelps
1 Months Ago

It is Fracking that both waists and poisons water.

Daniel Ferra
1 Months Ago

A California Residential Feed in Tariff would allow homeowners to sell their Renewable Energy to the utility, protecting our communities from Poison Water, Grid Failures, Natural Disasters, Toxic Natural Gas and Oil Fracking.

It would also create a new revenue stream for the Hard Working Taxpaying, Voting, Homeowner.

Our California Residential Feed-In Tariff should start out at 16 cents per kilowatt hour, 5 cents per kilowatt hour to the Utility for use of the Grid, 11 cents per kilowatt hour going to the Home Owner.

A California Commercial FiT in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, an Sacramento Ca. are operating NOW, paying the Business Person 17 cents cents per kilowatt hour.

Sign and Share this petition for a California Residential Feed in Tariff.

Enviro-Equipment, Inc.
1 Months Ago

I\'m glad that Californians are waking up to the fact that their dry state cannot support the kind of agriculture they been producing for decades now. Unfortunately this problem was caused by politicians - both past and present - who stuck their heads in the sand and failed to charge people for the groundwater the use, something which would have almost certainly destroy California\'s agro industry.

Eventually when the groundwater is almost completely depleted will the state\'s residents wake up and face the reality of their situation and force farmers to pay for the water is a draw out of the ground.

01 Apr 2015

Does anyone know how much sea water it takes to grow 1 lb of lobster? Trillions....

15 Apr 2015

As a california resident, I can tell you the obvious. the problems with the water shortages have absolutely nothing to do with livestock, farming, or any other "finger pointing" source. the problem is that California was never intended to be able to support 35+ million people and an agricultural industry that makes up apprx 50% of the U.S. fruits, vegetables, and livestock. Therefore, the solution to this problem isnt\' "getting rid of livestock" as vegans would conclude. The solution is to use desalinated water for those means and give back the rivers and creeks that the costal regions and central valley agriculture have been stealing from inland resources; such as the owens river, the colorado river, and the Sacramento Delta. The population of California is predicted to reach over 60 million by 2050 (it is at 30 mil now) and we do not, nor will we have the resources to cover that.

Meaningless Numbers
1 Months Ago

As for actual consumption of a grass fed and grass finish steer or heifer for beef production, it helps to do some math... On the high end very thirsty beef cattle depending on breed and location drink around 20 gallons a day. They live longer than grain finish feedlot cattle, so it takes longer to get to weight, so 30 months as opposed to 18 months, therefore they consume 18,250 gallons of water over their lifetime. They yield a net of approx 500 lbs of beef, so that\'s 36.5 gallons of water per pound of beef. With pastured cattle a lot of that water is excreted as urine and manure with minerals that build soils by bolstering soil ecology (so the water actually stays in the ecosystem). Most of the dramatic number (the other 1563 gallons) is from water needed for feed or forage which is "green water.". Thus 98% of green water numbers used in water foot print calcs are not from consumption but theoretically for growing feed or forage which can either be irrigated or from rainfall...If the green water is from rainfall, the water foot print number is pretty meaningless in terms of environmental impact. So in discussing water use, you have to look where the "green" water comes from to understand the environmental impact. Rainfall falls regardless and is retained much better in healthy soils that are built faster with properly managed livestock. Plus non-irrigated perennial poly-crop grasslands keep ground cover temperatures lower which also helps keep soils healthy since soil microbes aren\'t killed off due to the heat.

So if cattle are kept on grass and managed properly and help build soils, they actually may be beneficial to the environment, not detrimental, because those healthy soils with poly cultures of long rooted perennial plants will retain more water and provide ground covers which combats drought. Rain drops that fall will be better retained. Factory animals dependent upon irrigated feed crops are a different story. They also require a lot more water than cattle and others animals on pasture. Thus how meat is raised makes a HUGE difference. People shouldn\'t eat factory raised meat for a whole myriad of reasons including poor water use and reliance on irrigated feed crops.

Meaningless Words
19 Mar 2015

Dear Meaningless Numbers:

1) Please cite some helpful peer-reviewed sources for your numbers.

2) Did you really type "Rainfall falls regardless" in response to an article about California\'s drought?

Meaningless Words
19 Mar 2015

Dear Meaningless Numbers:

1) Please cite some helpful peer-reviewed sources for your numbers.

2) Did you really type "Rainfall falls regardless" in response to an article about California\'s drought?

So Misleading
31 Mar 2015

Thank you for this! This article is so misleading. Eating grass-fed animals is one of the best things you can do for the environment, not to mention your own health.

Dennis Rawson
03 Apr 2015

The water the animals drink does not stay in the animal! It is surely recycled, and by nature! Let\'s study Israel\'s management of water!

Karen Call
12 Apr 2015

This is a falsehood for many reasons.

See the article, "Is Organic and/or Grass-Fed Meat, Dairy, or Eggs a Healthy, Sustainable Choice?"


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