25 May 2023

It's Cows

Over ¾ of all water user

Sorry for using a strip from the racist asshole,
but it was too on point.

So we now have some numbers, and a neat graphic, on who is using the Colorado River water that is now in such short supply in the west.

It's the cows, and I mean that literally.

79% of the use of the river is agricultural, and over half is livestock feed.

It seems to me that the policy of growing crops that need a lot of water that is normally arid, and appears to be becoming even more arid thanks to anthropogenic climate change.

This is not a sustainable agricultural model.

It is made worse by the doctrine of prior appropriation of water rights, which gives eternal rights to water of the first users, so long as they continue to use the water.  (Talk about screwed up incentives)

Moving to lower water crops, and lower water livestock, in addition to water right reform, would go a long way to fixing the problem:

The water supply that 40 million Americans rely on has been pushed to its limit. Reservoirs and wells are running low. This week, the states that rely on water from the Colorado River reached a temporary deal with the Biden administration on sharing what’s left.

What’s using all that water?

The majority of the water in the Colorado River basin — more than one trillion gallons — is used to grow feed for livestock, connecting the region’s water crisis to how much dairy and meat we eat.

The crops grown for humans to eat directly, like vegetables, use up less than a quarter of the amount of water that livestock feed does, according to estimates from a 2020 study published in Nature Sustainability. And residential consumption, like watering your lawn and taking showers, uses a fifth of what livestock feed does.


Water footprint estimates can vary widely depending on the conditions that the livestock are raised in, or the farming practices and technology used. But, in general, beef and dairy are some of the most water-intensive foods we consume. Raising cattle also contributes relatively more greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane, than most other food. 

There are low water crops and livestock out there, figs, okra, rhubarb, goats, legumes, chard, cucumbers, peppers, regular and sweet potatoes, grapes, some cows (NOT Angus), etc.

Unfortunately, what we here is a lot about taking shorter showers and the like, because entrenched interests don't want their role in this closely examined.


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