Fresh water continues to be taken for granted, despite the constant overwhelming data showing the depleting rates across the world, and especially in California. The reservoirs and the subterranean aquifers of millions of years are shrinking, the ice caps in Sierra Nevada are melting and large lakes are disappearing. In addition, record high dry winters are creating a drought that could be potentially irreversible and dangerous to the future generations.
The meat industry, including the process of managing the livestock as well as creating packaged sellable product across the United States, continues to be a leading cause of depletion of natural resources in California and will continue to get worse if it is not stopped. The current state of production and consumption of meat goods, if it continues at the same rate, will destroy the supply of water natural resources available to us; most importantly fresh drinking water. To combat this, remaking meat a luxury food item, as it has been for centuries should be considered. Furthermore, looking into more environmentally friendly ways of producing meat products could reduce the usage of water as well. A main misconception when it comes to water is that because of the ocean, we have a lot of it. In the book, “WIll the World Run out of Water” there’s a chapter called “Billions of People Will Run Out of Fresh Water by 2050” in which Gayle Ehrenman discusses the amount of water we have available to us and how without it, life as we know it would perish. According to Ehrenman, even though 70 percent of the world is covered with water, only 3 percent of that water is fresh and drinkable for living creatures. Even further, of that 3 percent around 30 percent of it is ground water while the other 70 percent is frozen in ice caps and glaciers.
That means, that of all the water on the planet the only usable amount is about .9 percent of the world’s water. In California, we mainly rely on rivers and lakes for that fresh water. Unfortunately, California due to its Mediterranean climate has cyclic droughts, which means that lakes in years of drought are not filled naturally by rainfall. Most shockingly, less than .01 percent of that water is refilled every year by the naturally occurring hydrologic cycle.
Water is arguably the most vital natural resource that we people have available. Humans need water to live, to produce food sources, and necessarily to cool down the earth’s temperatures. The lack of water could cause unintended consequences, such as energy shortages, economic failures, food shortages and global conflicts . Both the production of energy and goods require the extensive use of water. The thermoelectric plants use a large amount of water to operate and generate energy, water is therefore their primary source.
While solar and wind power could be used as a substitute since they are better for the environment and use far less water, our current energy system still uses heat energy which is then converted into electrical energy. Without water and without a shift in energy production, the United States could potentially lose out on power. Economically, water is also used in the industry to produce massive amounts of products such as paper, clothing and metallurgical products. Those are large industries that could demolish the United States economy, seeing as they are heavily dependent of water. While many goods can be luxury, it removes the availability of transportation, and protective clothing for different environments and weather conditions. While these are concerns there are higher concerns. Some countries have natural environments that are far more likely to have rain, such as the Amazon rainforest in South America.
With an increasing lack of water, it could soon be a commodity that many would fight for. A lack of water could create a high likelihood for global conflict if countries with harsher arid environment tried to obtain resources outside of their own home. An example of this is the war between Israel and Syria by the Golan Heights. This war seems as a political war but the reality is that the Golan Heights have the largest aquifer resources in the area. Seeing as water is needed to survive, it is not far fetched that if the world became desperate enough, wars would be started over resources, and not just water, but food as well.
Without clean fresh water, growing vegetation would be almost impossible. Not only would people be dying from dehydration, starvation would soon follow as well. This could create mass chaos across the world and a collapse of civilization as it turned into a desolate and apocalyptic planet. As the demand for water continues to exceed the supply, new solutions will have to be created to solve this crisis. An innocent but at the same time ignorant argument is that of incorporating ocean water in the agricultural process or in the daily life of the people. Unfortunately, due to the high concentrations of salts and minerals in the water, the damage could be greater than the benefit. However, desalination plants are a real probability, only at a huge cost. The desalination process is long and expensive.
First, solids and particle must be removed from the ocean water. Secondly, reverse osmosis membranes separate dissolved minerals, such as salt, and other impurities. Lastly, they introduce good minerals and chemicals to make regulation safe and meets health standards(City of Santa Barbara, 2018). As an example, Santa Barbara has the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant which according to the City of Santa Barbara’s Public Works website, can generate three million gallons of drinking water per day.
While this may sound like a lot of water, it actually only meets 30 percent of the city’s demand. On top of that the facility cost the city $71 million to create and it’s annual operating cost is $4.1 million. While this can be a great assistance, unfortunately it comes at a great cost for little reward and can not be used as the only resource for fresh water. One of the largest consumers of our freshwater is the meat and agricultural industries. Fresh water is used for drinking water for the cattle, pigs and poultry, watering corn and soy fields specifically made to feed them, as well as cleaning up the waste produced by the animals and the factories.
In the paper, “The Sustainability Challenges of Our Meat and Dairy Diets,” Susanne Stoll-Kleemann and Tim O’Riordan discuss the repercussions of a meat diet on the environment and biodiversity. According to the paper, agriculture and the meat industry combined account for 92 percent of freshwater use across the globe. Every year, on cattle fattening farms in the United States, about two billion tons of manure are excreted as well, considered by the Agency for Environmental Protection (EPA) as one of the major environmental pollutants of water. This furthermore contaminates the fresh water available to make it useless and dangerous for a humans consumption and health. That means that nearly all the water available to use is wasted on both food only fed to animals and meat and their waste. For feed, we use exogenous crops, which means that they are water intensive crops, such as corn and soy to fatten up livestock.
A whopping 50 percent of US land area is used for food production which accounts for fields of crops that are only meant to feed animals that are meant to eat primarily grass. These crops are so water extensive they use 100 gallons of water to produce just a pound of each. Fresh water that could be distributed properly is casually wasted on food that livestock is not even meant to eat in the first place; seeing as they are meant to eat foliage for healthy growth and development. It’s not just the crops that are water exhaustive but the animals too. Stoll-Kleemann, Susanne and, O’Riordan explain that “the livestock sector is a key player in increasing water use, mostly because the water is needed for the irrigation of feed-crops. For example, it takes 15,415 liters (15.4 cubic meters) of water to produce just i kg of beef.
” In other words, it takes around 2,000 gallons of water for just 1 pound of beef and it almost doubles when it is a dairy cow since they require more water to produce milk. To put it into perspective, while a human being drinks approximately 1 gallon of water per day, a cow needs more than 20 gallons, which does not even take into account the amount of water that is being wasted on the food it eats. It is amazing that meats are not luxury products when this industry waste so many resources.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, as of January 1, 2018 there an overwhelming 94 million cows in the United States, and 5 million of those were just in California (USDA, 2018). Considering the quantity of water one cow demands, that is an exacerbated 2 billion gallons of water every year wasted on beef, which doesn’t even account for the poultry and pork we eat as well. However, it is astonishing that people can manage to buy burger at large food chains for a dollar. Since there would still be a demand for meat considering the western diet, a good alternative that would be more environmentally friendly and could save a lot of water would be rotational grazing and grass fed livestock.
Rotational grazing is the practice of dividing sets of pastures for a set period time for grazing. Once one pastures has been completely grazed, they rotated the cows to another pasture that’s been at a resting state of growth (Undersanders, Albert, and Cosgrove, 2002). This allows for grass to grow back while still getting maximum efficiency out of the cattle.
A large complication that the meat and agriculture industries have currently is that they exhaust the land to the point that nothing can be grown from it and it becomes useless. Rotational grazing is not only creating healthier grass fed beef but it’s also saving land from losing its value. In addition, it is not wasting water on crops that demand too much water or facility to hold the livestock. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the cattle get 70 to 80 percent more water from the grass and therefore require 50 percent less water than an average cow in a factory. Furthermore, while factories regularly worry about water contamination due to feces, in rotational grazing cattle droppings are used as manure to help the grass grow back in the used pastures. This method does come a disadvantage that it would not produce as much meat as the current meat industry.
Potentially, the price of meat could double due to its extensive process. Considering the consequences of the loss of water though, having meat be a luxury product should be dispensable. In actuality though, economically rotational grazing could be more beneficial, “…graziers averaged about $200 more per cow net farm income than confinement dairy farms”(Undersanders, Albert, and Cosgrove, 2002). Rotational grazing has way more benefits in comparison to its disadvantages such as encouraging reforestation. Since land is not being stripped away to create factories, more plants in turn creates more condensation and moisture in the air which then promotes more rain.
That is the most important advantage of changing the way our current meat industry works, by producing a system that is significantly more environmentally friendly and assist the hydrologic cycle produce more water. Another method of water conservation is through new methods of agriculture called permaculture. Also known as permanent agriculture, permaculture is an agricultural ecosystem based on utilizing the natural environment to be sustainable and self-sufficient. A main concept of permaculture is water management. In the article, “Water Management For Every Permaculture Farm”, the author, William Horvath, discusses how to manage water, how to assess the water needs, and how to store water in the soil. The author introduces water management by explaining the main priority of water conservation, “There are two basic strategies of water conservation on a permaculture farm: storing water in the soil and the diversion of surface water to dams/ponds and tanks for later use; storing it on the surface.” Permaculture, a system of restorative agriculture, can be implemented in California as a water conservation technique. Permaculture restores the fertility of the soil, even the most damaged soil, and through the administration of native resources in a sustainable way, allows the conservation of agroecological systems permanently and obtaining up to thirty percent more in productive yield, through some agricultural techniques, such as the use of composting and the recovery of organic matter to convert it into fertilizer.
This technique allows the soil, on the one hand, to maintain humidity longer, thus being able to further delay irrigation, providing on the one hand an economic saving and on the other hand the decrease in water consumption. Rainwater harvesting could be another technique that would also help water conservation in California. It is estimated that only in Los Angeles in a normal storm 10,000 million water gallons are channeled to the Pacific ocean, thus squandering fresh water for human consumption and crop irrigation. More infrastructures are needed to capture rainwater since most of the water that falls on the city of Los Angeles and all across California goes to the ocean. According to the Department of Water and Energy (DWP) of Los Angeles, this is beginning to be considered a loss of water resources for a city that imports more than 85 percent of the drinking water it consumes.
Even the government of California is contemplating the possibility that home owners of California obtain a tax exemption for capturing rainwater in their yards.Reuse water resources is other subject pending in California and worldwide. The term recycled water, defines the processing of waters that have been previously used so that these after treatment can be suitable for new uses and ready for reuse. The global estimate is that currently only four percent of all water consumed is reused, being the United States one of the countries with the largest volume of recycled water worldwide. The most common uses of recycled water are reuse for municipal uses in parks and gardens as well as in industrial uses.
Although the volumes of recycled water used are very small, we can predict that it will increase in the near future by incorporating the gray water recycling system in all of California’s cities. Currently there are some technology companies in California that have already implemented the use of recycled water with double plumbing in their buildings. This recycled water they are using to fill toilets and urinal flushing, as well in the water circuit in their cooling towers.
Right now, there are official departments identifying and investigating possible additional uses for recycled water, such as the use of recycled water for cleaning streets or more industrial uses. I hope this trend continue increasing in the coming years The water crisis is no longer the concern of future grandkids. At the rate that the meat and agriculture industries are running right now without any concern for the freshwater available, it will be a potential sabotage to the millennial generation and even some of their parents. Water is the most vital resource that humans need to survive. It is an urgent devastation that will lead to the loss of life as we know it. Occupying meat farming is no longer a concern about human health or animal rights, but about the absurd amount of water that is wasted on a product. Rotational grazing allows humans to keep a lifestyle that it so desperately wants to maintain while also preserving our resources. The catastrophic consequences losing water entails urges that it’s time to start taking it seriously.
We can no longer misuse water, institutions need to be created to preserve it.