Worsening drought conditions in much of the American West, particularly California, are causing widespread concern. Lawmakers in the Golden State have recently implemented restrictions on the water use of civilians, restaurants, and hotels in an effort to slow the drain of this essential life-giving resource.
But can shorter showers and browner lawns really fix the problem? Those concerned about their personal impact need to spend less time looking at their faucets and more time looking at their plates. The following are 10 shocking stats that show the largely hidden yet massive water footprint of the animal-agriculture industry:
1. The land mammal who consumes the most water per pound of bodyweight is the cow.
A single cow used for her milk on an industrial feed lot can consume up to 100 gallons of water a day during hot summer months, and that adds up. An estimated 55% of the USA’s freshwater supply goes to raising animals for food.
2. In drought-ravaged California, more than 10% of the state’s dwindling water supply goes to growing alfalfa for cows on farms.
Alfalfa hay used as animal feed requires an estimated 1.6 trillion gallons of water a year. What’s more—30% of California-grown alfalfa is shipped overseas to feed cattle in Asia. That’s 100 billion gallons of water a year.
3. It can take more than 600 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of cow’s milk.
Since roughly 30 gallons of water required to yield just a 6-ounce serving of dairy milk, the total adds up at an alarming rate.
4. As many as 55 gallons of water go into every two slices of dairy cheese.
Four ounces of butter? That’s 109 gallons of water. Six ounces of Greek yogurt, 90.
5. If you follow government recommendations for saving water, you’ll save 47 gallons a day …
… but that doesn’t mean much when it takes an estimated 660 gallons of water to produce a quarter pound of hamburger meat.
Producing just 1 pound of hamburger meat requires the same amount of water as 2 months’ worth of showers.
6. Ounce for ounce, beef requires almost double the amount of water that almonds do.
7. Snowpack in California’s mountainous regions accounts for 33% of the state’s water—but warmer winters mean less snowfall each year, and what’s there is melting faster than it can be replenished.
As average temperatures become steadily warmer (October 2014 to January 2015 was the warmest California winter recorded in the last 120 years), the state is forced to turn to its shrinking supply of groundwater to quench the enormous thirst of the animal agriculture industry.
8. Raising animals for food drives climate change.
Cows produce about 150 billion gallons of methane every day, which is 25 to 100 times more damaging to the atmosphere than CO2 (which, mind you, they produce an estimated 32 billion tons of per year).
9. Each day, humans worldwide drink an estimated 5.2 billion gallons of water. Cows drink roughly eight and a half times that amount in a day—45 billion gallons.
10. Compared to someone with a meat and dairy laden diet…
- 45 pounds of grain
- 30 square feet of land
- 20 lbs of CO2 equivalent
- an animal’s life
Make a difference now: Pledge to go vegan!
Not only will going vegan reduce your water footprint, it can also improve your health and will make the world a better place for animals. Need a place to start? Order a copy of our free vegan starter kit today. It’s packed with recipes and tips that will make going vegan a total breeze.