Though the water crisis in California the past 5 years seems to be thankfully easing some, it was a scary reminder of what a threat water scarcity is for us. If you followed the story, you probably know the California governor ordered restrictions to cut 25% of water use across the state. Residents were encouraged to be mindful and use less water and practices such as lawn watering were banned. But the restrictions on direct residential use targeted only 4% of the water use in California footprint. Not included in any of the restrictions was the biggest water user–agriculture, which uses a whopping 90% of the water in the state. And animal agriculture accounts for more than half of water footprint in California according to the Pacific Institute’s 2012 Assessment of California’s Water Footprint.
But beyond California, meat production requires so much water it is staggering. For a quick summary, below is excerpt on water from an article about the sustainability of meat from WorldWatch Institute, and independent research institute devoted to global environmental concerns:
- Fresh water, like land, seemed inexhaustible for most of the first 10 millennia of civilization. So, it didn’t seem to matter how much a cow drank. But a few years ago, water experts calculated that we humans are now taking half the available fresh water on the planet—leaving the other half to be divided among a million or more species. Since we depend on many of those species for our own survival (they provide all the food we eat and oxygen we breathe, among other services), that hogging of water poses a dilemma. If we break it down, species by species, we find that the heaviest water use is by the animals we raise for meat. One of the easiest ways to reduce demand for water is to reduce the amount of meat we eat.
- The standard diet of a person in the United States requires 4,200 gallons of water per day (for animals’ drinking water, irrigation of crops, processing, washing, cooking, etc.). A person on a vegan diet requires only 300 gallons a day.—Richard H. Schwartz in Judaism and Vegetarianism
- A report from the International Water Management Institute, noting that 840 million of the world’s people remain undernourished, recommends finding ways to produce more food using less water. The report notes that it takes 550 liters of water to produce enough flour for one loaf of bread in developing countries…but up to 7,000 liters of water to produce 100 grams of beef. —UN Commission on Sustainable Development, “Water—More Nutrition Per Drop,”
- Let’s say you take a shower every day…and your showers average seven minutes…and the flow rate through your shower head is 2 gallons per minute…. You would use, at that rate, [5,110] gallons of water to shower every day for a year. When you compare that figure, [5,110] gallons of water, to the amount the Water Education Foundation calculates is used in the production of every pound of California beef (2,464 gallons),you realize something extraordinary. In California today, you may save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you would by not showering for six entire months. —John Robbins in The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and the World
Changing one’s diet to replace even 50 percent of animal products with edible plants like legumes, nuts and tubers results in a 30 percent reduction in an individual’s food-related water footprint. Going vegetarian reduces that water footprint by almost 60 percent, a vegan diet even more. You can calculate your own water footprint here and see the impact you can have by eliminating some of the animal products you eat each day.