While doing research for this post, I found some pretty unsettling statistics. It’s well known that water plays a massive role in everything we do, and there is no denying its importance. It’s not necessarily something we take for granted, but most of us tend to forget just how much water we actually use on an extremely regular basis.
So here’s one of those troubling numbers: it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef. This number – beef’s water footprint – is astounding. For comparison’s sake, the amount of water used to produce one pound of beef is equivalent to that of 90 eight-minute showers. These numbers are scary, but the logic behind them makes sense. Beef’s water footprint is so large because the methods of converting cattle to market meat are vastly inefficient, and the amount of time it takes for cattle to metabolize their food is expansive. This is the feed conversion ratio, and it is directly correlated to the amount of water needed to produce beef. The bigger the feed, the bigger the footprint.
There are certainly methods to taming this issue, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a concrete and terminal solution. We don’t need to cut meat out of our diets entirely. Instead, we can choose to eat beef in smaller portions, or even substitute it with chicken (already a healthier option). Chicken’s water footprint is 468 gallons – not perfect, but undoubtedly a huge improvement. Whatever your method may be, make sure to consider these numbers when eating meat.
Just to put it into perspective this article I found in the Washington Post has analogies of what 1 trillion gallons of water is:
“* It’s 9 percent of the total water needed to end the California drought, according to NASA (which reported in December that the state has a water deficit of 11 trillion gallons).
* It’s about 40 million swimming pools and 24 billion baths.
* It’s about equal to the capacity of Florida’s vast Lake Okeechobee.”
The Environmental protection Agency estimates that Americans alone waste this amount of water from things such as “leaky kitchen and bathroom faucets, malfunctioning toilets,(and) errant sprinkler systems”. The leaks that are preventable are adding up and actually contributing a large portion gallons of unused wasted water.The EPA has responded with a campaign called Fix a Leak Week that aims on raising awareness and hopefully stopping leaks that when combined add up to a lot of water wasted.
Personally I was curious about the math used to calculate these figures, I found that the article used a tool from the US geological survey to calculate how much water is wasted. The assumption is that one faucet that leaks at one drip per minute adds up to 34 gallons per year in wasted water. For every million homes with one leaky faucet the amount of wasted gallons per year is 34 million. I personally think this estimate is low and that there is a concentration of leaky faucets in certain houses that have old piping. That being said the epidemic of wasting water needs to stop. We should all do our best to use water at a reasonable rate while monitoring the leaks at our house that end up costing money and wasting water.
Most of you have probably never been, or even wanted to go to Idaho. Probably the most random state in the US, we have one thing that we are known for. This thing is so popular, in fact, that we emblazon it on our license plates! Idaho is loud and proud about our potatoes. And yes, before you laugh, there is other stuff to do there too, but potato production is the pride of the Gem State. On a more analytical level, the potato production out of Idaho alone accounts for $1.9 Billion dollars a year of profit for the state. Idaho produces more potatoes per year than any other state, with 62% being used for processed/ dehydrated foods (such as McDonald’s french fries), 29% are shipped fresh and 9% are planted for certified seed. 310,000 acres of land in Idaho are dedicated to the growth and harvest of potatoes. Last year alone, Idaho produced 134,850 cwt of potatoes. 1cwt = 112 pounds. So that means that last year, Idaho produced 15,103,200 pounds of potatoes. The average weight of one russet burbank potato (which is the most commonly produced type of potato in Idaho) is 5-7 oz. So basically, that’s a whole lot of potatoes.
As far as water is concerned, this level of growth places constant stress on the environment. Most of Idaho is high desert, which means that it is in a state of perpetual drought. An average of 34 gallons of water is required to grow just one pound of potatoes. So if we are to estimate how much water was used to grow Idaho’s potatoes last year, that figure sits somewhere in the ballpark of 513,508,800 gallons. (However, it was probably more because the number of pounds of potatoes produced, does not account for the potatoes that went bad or were contaminated in the growing process). All in all, this is a huge amount of water being used by only one state for only one crop. While the Idaho potato industry may be lucrative and historic for the state, it is not environmentally conscious nor is it sustainable at this rate.
In this day and age, it is no surprise that humans try and take the easiest, most available route when it comes to pretty much everything in their everyday lives. People tend to want the fastest, most convenient things, and this is one reason why bottled water has become one of the most popular drinks. Despite being free is almost every person’s home, people still tend to spend their money on large bottled waters in an attempt to get their suggested daily water intake, rather than investing in a reusable water bottle.
Although people may think that buying one water bottle isn’t the end of the world, some may argue that this is what is leading to our planet getting into such bad shape. In an article written about the harm that water bottles have on our environment, entitled, “Why You Should Give Up Bottled Water for Good”, the author states, “Did you know that, every year, the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce plastic water and soda bottles in the U.S.—not including transportation? Or that bottling water produces more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year?” This just goes to show what our country is willing to do for convenience.
I would estimate, on average, that each Union College student drinks between 1 or 2 bottles of water a day, since I have noticed reusable water bottles have become more trendy. With around 2,200 students at Union, I would argue then that there is around 4,400 bottles of water being used every day. For such a small campus, that number is truly terrifying.
Animal/Crop water needs: Give an example of water consumption by one type of livestock or one type of crop:
One type of livestock that consumes a significant quantity of water, proves to be cows. It is interesting to note however, that the amount of water consumed, varies significant depending on the age, sex, weight, and weather conditions present for the cow. Cows consume an average of 3 to 30 gallons of water per day. While this is just a general range, effective water consumption can be calculated by adding 1 gallon of water per 100 pounds of the cow during cold weather, and 2 gallons per 100 pounds during hot weather. On a national scale (measuring the United States as a whole), the amount of water usage necessary to produce 1 pound of beef, proves to be an estimated 1,799 gallons of water. Compare this with 576 gallons of water for 1 pound of pork, 216 gallons for 1 pound of soybeans and 108 gallons for 1 pound of corn, one can deduce that the production of beef requires enormous quantities of water consumption. This can be accredited too the size of cows in comparison to other live stock; as bigger animals require larger water intake, yet also have more inedible parts (such as bone) so producing one pound of edible flesh requires numerous cows. While this water usage is quite large, it is a tad misleading because an estimated 88% of the water needed in cows in obtained through lactation or the milk they drink daily. Nonetheless however, the water usage required for livestock is a far larger quantity than most, if not all other agricultural processes.
Meat’s large water footprint: why raising livestock and poultry for meat is so resource-intensive
Avocados are one of the hottest foods out there right now; Between putting it in salads, smoothies, or on toast, avocados seem to hold all the hype. However, though they may be a superfood for the human body, they have the opposite name for our planet. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Avocado production per capita jumped from 1.1 pounds annually in 1999 to 4.5 ponds in 2011. Now avocados don’t require nearly as much water as say almonds, however they require a significantly higher amount than other produce. It takes 74.1 gallons of irrigated water to grow a pound of avocados in California, a surprising 30 pounds higher than the second highest crop, peaches. “Land devoted to avocados has expanded rapidly—from about 6,180 hectares (15,270 acres) in 1980 to 27,000 hectares (66,700 acres) in 2006, all the way to 36,000 hectares (88,960 acres) in 2014, according to the USDA.” Now avocado production is seasonal which is beneficial for the environment, like almonds and other damaging nuts, but it still does require massive amounts of water for production. California currently takes a laissez-faire approach to groundwater regulation, and this should certainly be implemented in every country avocados are grown (Chile and Mexico included).
Give an example of water consumption by one type of livestock or one type of crop. Water waste: Give an example of water waste (in U.S. or other countries). Make suggestions for reducing water waste and quantify the amount of water that could be saved.
The consumption of meat has a been a human practice since the beginning of times, as it holds many benefits but its also damaging to the water waste rate. The upkeep of livestock is not the issue of water waste but the rising numbers in meat consumption raises a question of finding alternative methods of ranching. The U.S. has a high rate of chicken consumption as the umbers have been steadily since the 1960s, having five times greater production as beef. In the article American Diet is Shifting, by Richard Waite, the emphasis on meat consumption is enforced as the consumption of poultry is rising in steady numbers. The global average water footprint of chicken meat is about 4330 litre/kg. comparing to the meat of beef cattle (15400 litre/kg), sheep (10400 litre/kg), pig (6000 litre/kg) or goat (5500 litre/kg). Chicken meat’s footprint is smaller compared to the other meats helping cutdown the waste. The high consumption of poultry is having a deeper impact as people are consuming in higher numbers.
The clear solution to the water waste produced from all meats would be everyone switching to a vegetarian diet or limit the consumption of meat. In order for any of these actions to take place to would require the reprograming of a society that has lived in the consumption of meat for thousands of years. Healthy living is also an expensive form a life which a majority of the world would not be able to afford without grave changes. The production of a salad which includes tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers is 322 litre/kg. In the comparison of poultry and vegetables there is a difference of 4002 litre/kg, showing the high number of consumption that could be removed with this change.
Everyone is told to turn off the water while brushing their teeth. I remember teachers in elementary school always discussing the issue, and people are prone to telling others to turn off the water. It seems like such a minor issue compared to other environmental concerns, considering brushing teeth only takes about two minutes. However, it is still an issue that many people aren’t educated well enough on. According to Yougov.com around 40% of Americans still don’t shut off the faucet when brushing their teeth. This accounts for eight gallons of water wasted every day. The population of the U.S. is around 325 million. 40% of that number is 130 million. Assuming that everyone brushes their teeth once a day, 130 million people waste eight gallons of water a day. So, 1,040,000,000 gallons of water are wasted every day in the U.S. because people don’t turn off the faucet.
The fact that some countries don’t have clean drinking water, or have severe water shortages makes the U.S. look irresponsible with all our wasted water. Solving the faucet waste problem probably won’t be easy, as its a topic many are already aware of. Telling kids in school to turn of the water when brushing their teeth is one step. Another possible idea is to have a specific button on a faucet that dispenses a certain amount of water needed to brush teeth. Another option could be to have some sort of number tracker on faucets that shows how much water has been used. I think if people actually knew how much water they were wasting, they would be more prudent about shutting off the faucet.