19 Jun

Doubting the California drought: Reassessing our impact on the water shortage

by Jacqueline Kravette

Most of the country knows that California is in the midst of a massive and devastating drought. Moreover, the water shortage across the globe is reaching perilous levels.  One morning, as I was pondering writing this article, I met one of my closest friends for coffee. I explained the subject I was exploring and the points I wanted to impart. We launched into the intense conversation that I’ve had, more often than not, over the last few years.  Is it possible to be an environmentalist and not be vegan?

Environmental issues, especially the water shortage and devastating California drought, are inextricably linked to animal agriculture. California has been the largest producer of Dairy in the US since 1993, with the exception of cheese, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). And is second in the nation for total animal agriculture next to Texas. As my friend and I argued back and forth, I was unable to make my point in a way that could be heard. I was judgmental and arrogant, as I understand the facts regarding this drought. Even though I considered myself “right” in this matter; it is always unhelpful and nonconstructive to be closed-minded.

I forgot, or merely dismissed, that most people DO want to be a part of the solution; people DO want to do the right thing for our planet. Many of us recycle, use as little water as possible and carpool when it is convenient. Most of us “do the best we can” and honestly believe that is the truth. In fact, my friend made it a point to explain how her family only fills the bath halfway to conserve water.

It’s common for me to hear remarks among friends or in the media such as,“Are you really going to run the water while you brush your teeth?” “You must replace your shower and faucet heads to conserve water.” “Do not water your lawn more than 2 times a month, we are in a drought, you know!” These small lifestyle choices, albeit well-meaning, that are adopted by environmentally conscious people actually only amounts to less than 5% of our overall water usage.

california droughtAnimal agriculture is responsible for over 55% of our water consumption in the US. This is not a fact that’s advertised, discussed or known by the general population. Animal agriculture’s culpability in the California drought is skillfully omitted from most articles and reports on this topic. The reasons behind these “exclusions” or misguided information would take up another article or book entirely. Just know it has to do with money and politics. The most important takeaway is that the single most helpful thing anyone can do for the water supply problem is adopt a plant-based or vegan lifestyle.

Why does the animal industry take up so much water? How much do these cows, pigs and chickens drink anyway? It’s not just the hydrating of the animals but the water used to irrigate the feed for the livestock, as well as the enormous amount of water used to clean the facilities and slaughterhouses. The Water Education Foundation states that for every pound of beef produced, it requires 2,464 gallons of water. What does that actually mean? Translated into “shower terms,” the amount of water 6 months of showering takes up is the equivalent to eating only one pound of beef. This goes for the dairy industry as well.

It is approximated that it will take a month’s worth of showers for the equivalent in making one gallon of milk. Moreover, the Midwest Dairy Association reports that the on average a cow produces 7 gallons of milk which takes 6,160 gallons of water to produce. That means that we are simply throwing away 6,153 gallons of water for a gallon of milk. With the average California dairy cow producing 23,178 pounds of milk in 2013 (CDFA), that means a whole heck of a lot of water is used.

Are you still doubting the real cause of the California drought? Looking at these numbers, as well as acknowledging that this only takes two industries into consideration (chicken, turkey, pork, duck, goat and geese are not factored in to this equation), it is clear that we cannot sustain this lifestyle and expect not to end up “waterless.”
california drought
Clearly, we all know and believe that conserving water and not being wasteful are important. It is also admirable to take personal accountability of our own environmental footprint. So, yes, conserving water in your daily life is valuable. However, we must include the single most outrageous culprit of water waste that is directly contributing to the California drought: animal agriculture. Additionally, opening our eyes to the fact that the media ignores these statistics is imperative.

The truth can ignite change, but it isn’t always easy to digest.

Cigarette companies were ordered to issue a warning on their boxes and as a result, fewer people smoke. It is time to be warned about what is really causing our water shortage. Excessive showering, letting the water run while you brush your teeth or my new favorite, demonizing the almond as the hidden water guzzler are all ways to divert our attention from the real issue at hand. Our water problem will require a complete overhaul of our thought process and activities. Whether we like it or not.

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