Ditch the Drought

Ditch the Drought

You won't believe how much water a plant-based diet can save

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Green Common  Green Common  on 10 Mar '15

By Katie Cantrell, US Program Manager, Green Monday


As most of you may have heard by now, California is in the throes of a critical drought. Last year was the state's driest since record keeping began in 1895[1]. Over half of the state's counties have been labeled primary natural disaster areas due to the drought[2].


Amidst this crisis, understandably much attention is being given to ways that citizens can help reduce our water usage. Counties are imposing fines for over-watering lawns[3]. Billboards and PSA's urge people to take shorter showers and turn off the tap while brushing their teeth.


These exhortations are well-intentioned, but there's one gaping problem. Consumers account for just 4% of water usage in California[4]. Agriculture accounts for 93%, with roughly half of that water used by the meat and dairy industries[5]. Rather than looking at our faucets, we should be looking at our diets.


By far the most effective way for consumers to decrease our water usage is to eat less meat and dairy. A single hamburger takes 660 gallons of water to produce[6], while a veggie burger with equivalent protein takes just 52 gallons of water to produce[7]. A gallon of milk takes 880 gallons of water to produce[8], while a gallon of soy milk with equivalent calcium takes just 50 gallons of water to produce[9].


The California Water Board's website advises that by reducing shower times by 1-2 minutes people can save 5 gallons of water[10]. They fail to mention that by switching from a hamburger to a veggie burger, or cow milk to soy milk, people can save as much water as an entire month's worth of showers.


Decreasing meat and dairy consumption will also help protect the remaining water from pollution. There are over 9 billion animals raised for food every year in the United States[11], and all of those animals poop. In fact, farm animals in the U.S. produce 130 times more waste than the entire U.S. human population.[12]


Yet there are no sewage pipes or treatment plants for animal waste; most of it is sprayed onto land surrounding factory farms, where it seeps into local water tables and runs off into local rivers. According to the EPA, manure from farm animals is a leading cause of water pollution in the U.S.[13] It's polluted 35,000 miles of river in 22 states.[14]


This issue recently gained national attention when the residents of Toledo, Ohio were told not to drink, wash, or cook with their tap water due to a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie, which supplies Toledo's water. Both fertilizer runoff from farms growing corn and soy to feed to animals on factory farms, and waste from those animals themselves have been implicated in the toxic bloom.[15]


Thus the best way to both maintain and protect our water supply is to decrease the demand for water-intensive and water-polluting animal products.


Luckily, it's never been easier to find plant-based foods with the same tastes and textures as traditional foods. From chipotle lime crispy tenders to chocolate walnut brownie ice cream, choosing plant-based foods doesn't require any sort of sacrifice. Equally nutritious, equally delicious, and more sustainable – why not make the switch?


[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index, 12-months Ending in July California. http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/sotc/drought/2014/07/noaa-wrcc-ca-spei-12m-jul14.www.wrcc.dri.edu.png

[2] United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, California. 2014 Disaster Designation. http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/stateoffapp?&&&

[3] San Francisco Gate, California Drought: $500-a-day water fines passed. http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/State-water-board-expected-to-OK-500-a-day-fines-5623907.php

[4] Pacific Water Institute, California's Water Footprint, p. 3. http://www.waterfootprint.org/Reports/Fulton%20et%20al%202012.pdf

[5] Pacific Water Institute, California's Water Footprint, p. 3. http://www.waterfootprint.org/Reports/Fulton%20et%20al%202012.pdf

[6] National Geographic, The Hidden Water We Use. http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/embedded-water/

[7] Ecological Indicators Journal, The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products. http://www.waterfootprint.org/Reports/Ercin-et-al-2012-WaterFootprintSoy.pdf

[8] National Geographic, The Hidden Water We Use. http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/embedded-water/

[9] Ecological Indicators Journal, The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products. http://www.waterfootprint.org/Reports/Ercin-et-al-2012-WaterFootprintSoy.pdf

[10] California State Water Resources Control Board, Water Conservation Tips http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/drought/docs/water_conservation_tips.pdf

[11] Humane Society of the United States, Farm Animal Statistics: Slaughter Totals http://www.humanesociety.org/news/resources/research/stats_slaughter_totals.html

[12] Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, “Environment,” http://www.ncifap.org/issues/environment/

[13] Matt Gluckman, “EPA Regional CAFO Waste Issues”. Web. http://www.epa.gov/espp/litstatus/batch-5-draft-opinion-03_30_12.pdf

[14] “Draft Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operation”. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 11 Sept. 1998

[15] Daily Kos, Ohio dirty drinking water linked to livestock factory farms. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/08/06/1319518/-Ohio-dirty-drinking-water-linked-to-livestock-factory-farms#



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