The drought in California has garnered national attention as people across the country puzzled over whether or not the extreme lack of precipitation in the state was a foreboding sign of what is to come thanks to climate change. California has been experiencing an extreme drought for the past three years due to a “ridiculously resilient ridge” (actually a real scientific term!). This high pressure system caused by warmer oceanic temperatures that has caused weather patterns to divert away from the California coast and move up to Alaska. While climate change is causing global oceanic temperatures to rise, new research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that California’s drought was caused by, “natural atmospheric cycles that are unrelated to man-made climate change.”

This report has received a substantial amount of flack from climate scientists who discredit the report’s dismissal of climate change factors. The research illustrates that climate change does influence the warmer temperatures in California, which inevitably exasperated the drought, but holds fast to the idea that lack of precipitation was caused by natural weather cycles. The definitive ruling on the role of climate change in the California drought is still out for debate, but there is one thing that the report did not cover that definitively worsened the plight of Californians: animal agriculture.

After California Governor, Jerry Brown declared California in a state of drought emergency, residents were advised to minimize their personal use of water at all costs. However, individual water use in California only accounts for four percent of the state’s footprint. A stunning 93 percent is diverted to agriculture needs.

California is the U.S.’s leading dairy producer and is home to some 1.8 million dairy cows. A single dairy operation can use up to 150 gallons of water per cow, EVERY day. Multiply that by 1.8 million cows and you can understand how huge the impact of animal agriculture has been in worsening the drought in California. The organization, Factory Farm Awareness Coalition even launched a series of ads to run in the San Francisco subway system to show riders how they could drastically cut their water use by skipping dairy. According to one of the ads, “You can save the same amount of water by skipping one gallon of milk or 27 showers.”

So, while the debate over whether or not climate change is altering precipitation patterns in California is still going on, there is no question as to where the majority of California’s existing water resources are going. The NOAA warns that California’s drought system is not going away anytime soon, but if every resident were to skip their weekly gallon of milk (instead of worrying about leaving on the tap when brushing their teeth), we could indefinitely stave off the severity of the drought.

Check out these awesome dairy-free recipes to get you started! Saving water never tasted so good.

Image source: Anne Davis 773/Flickr