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December 9, 2014

How to Reverse California’s Drought

by Anne Paddock

California’s water drought problem has been in the news daily and although thousands of words have been written about this unfortunate situation, there are still a few left to write. California residents have been asked to turn off their sprinklers, stop washing their cars, use water saving toilets and faucets when in reality, only 5% of water consumption is domestic. 

Most water (about 55%) in the United States is being used by the animal agriculture industry and yet news organizations – television, newspaper, radio, and even on-line – rarely tell readers and listeners to reduce their consumption of animal and dairy products because more than 90% of the population consume animals products and they don’t want to risk offending the very people who support them.

Enormous amounts of water are needed to raise livestock (cows, chicken, pigs, sheep, lambs, goats, hogs, bison, rabbits, ducks, horses, and more) and produce dairy products and eggs. These animals – especially dairy cows – require vast quantities of drinking water while additional water is required for washing, cooling animal facilities, cleaning animal disposal systems, and watering feed crops. Estimates vary but generally, 60-70% of the grain grown is used to feed animals but we don’t get a pound of meat for every pound of grain fed to an animal. In fact, up to 16 pounds of grain are needed to produce 1 pound of meat.

In trying to understand the relationship between water, animal agriculture, and drought, consider the following:

  • 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef. In other words, 600 gallons of water are needed to make a 4 ounce burger. Compare this to 1 pound of vegetables which require 6 -30 gallons of water.
  • Nearly 500 gallons of water are needed to produce a pound of eggs while 900 gallons of water are needed to produce a pound of cheese.
  • Americans eat on average 8 ounces of meat per day – twice the global average. Each person can save more than 1000 gallons of water a day by reducing their consumption of meat and dairy products.
  • We have 5% of the world population and we raise and kill 10 billion animals per year, more than 15% of the worlds’ total. Americans may never stop consuming animal products but they can reduce their consumption.
  • 1.5 acres of land can produce up to 37,000 pounds of plant-based food (i.e. grains, fruits, legumes, vegetables) compared to 375 pounds of meat.
  • A dairy cow needs 2-4 gallons of water to produce every gallon of milk which means 24 – 48 gallons of water are needed to produce up to 12 gallons of milk per day. It’s roughly a 3:1 ratio. A dairy cow also consumes about 100 pounds of food per day. Non-lactating cattle require 20 gallons of water per day – more in the warmer months.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and WFN (Water Footprint Network) claim 1,000 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 gallon of milk because their computation also includes the amount of water required for feed and the water used in the production process.

Wikipedia reports that between 80-85% of all water use in California is for agriculture including animal and crop. So, if people really want to conserve water they need to reduce their consumption of animal products. This is not a message most people want to hear, but it is the truth. Our appetite for meat and dairy is having a dire impact on our environment and the only way to change that is to change ourselves.

See the Cowspiracy website (, the EPA website (, and the WFN ( for more detailed information on the statistical data cited.

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