California’s Drought — Who’s Really Using all the Water?

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From One Green Planet
Thanks to Ron Epstein

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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4 Comments

There is zero mention here of the tremendous waste of water on golf courses, wineries, lawns and landscapes, construction, swimming pools, etc., nor the lack of mandatory cuts by the state to its 3300 water supplier, except to cut off all water supply to our Central Valley farmers last March,in this, the Greatest Drought in the History of California.

Come November, there will be on the ballot a Measure “S” which will give our county, and its citizens, the right to have a major say in how water is allocated and used in our county:

http://ballotpedia.org/Mendocino_County_Community_Bill_of_Rights_Fracking_and_Water_Use_Initiative,_Measure_S_%28November_2014%29

Ballot summary
The ballot summary prepared by the county counsel:[4]
The proposed ordinance would establish a “Community Bill of Rights.” This Community Bill of Rights provides in part that “[a]ll residents, natural communities and ecosystems in Mendocino County possess the right to water, air and soil that is untainted by toxins, carcinogens, particulates, nucleotides, and hydrocarbons introduced into the environment through unconventional extraction of hydrocarbons.”

The proposed ordinance would also ban certain types of oil/gas extraction, which are called “unconventional extraction of Hydrocarbons” in the proposed ordinance. The ordinance defines “unconventional extraction of Hydrocarbons” as “hydraulic fracturing, “fracking”, directional and horizontal drilling, and waste injection wells.” The proposed ordinance creates strict liability for any damages to any person or property inside Mendocino County caused by “unconventional extraction” done by anyone inside or outside of the County of Mendocino.

The initiative would also declare null and void, within Mendocino County, any State, Federal or International law or other regulation that would violate the prohibitions contained within the proposed ordinance. The ordinance would also prohibit any corporations from asserting State, Federal or International laws to overturn this ordinance. The ordinance would also repeal all provisions of any ordinance, regulation or rules of any type, adopted by Mendocino County that are inconsistent with the provisions of the ordinance.

The proposed Ordinance, if enacted, would mandate “one year in county jail and…a fine of $10,000 for each violation.” The proposed ordinance also states that “[e]ach time a pump is turned on, and each stroke of the pump shall be a separate violation ….” Furthermore, the ordinance would make it a violation “[e]ach day that fracking infrastructure equipment is staged or located in Mendocino County for more than 8 hours, whether or not the equipment is actually used for fracking.”

The proposed ordinance would also require the County to schedule community meetings focused on changes to County government that would secure the rights of the people to local self-government if any government, corporation or natural person uses the legislature or courts to overturn any provision of the proposed ordinance.[6]

    Many of the terms of the proposed initiative — each stroke of a pump is a separate violation…punishable by a year in county jail and up to $10,000 fine — are so unreasonable and unenforceable that they would be easily struck down in court. It is no more than wishful thinking on the part of whoever drafted it.

Bravo to the revolutionary implications of the proposed “political” immunization against legal assaults by international, corporate, or domestic governmental governmental entities. However, on a much more local, and painfully “inside” track, I would ask producers of local organic meat how much of the “water” issue, as described in the article, applies to them. Is their impact, as meat producers, negligible? That is, where would the water they use now, if completely conserved, go?

Thanks again. In California the great abusive unwinding of agriculture started early. Aside from ethics, concerning workers and animals, consumers, if the full production and environmental end costs were truly carried by the producer / consumer, truth in pricing, honest economics, honest capitalism, this waste as usual would be long over. Round up the usual suspects. Pork barreling, eternally vested interests, lobbyists combined, not much confronted by a financially, struggling increasingly ignorant apathetic electorate. Can we still change any of this?

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