US rivers and lakes are shrinking for a surprising reason: cows

US rivers and lakes are shrinking for a surprising reason: cows

Cattle-feed crops account for 23 percent of water consumption in the US and are rapidly becoming a major driver of water shortages across the country. Crops like alfalfa and hay which are fed to cattle end up as beef and dairy products. Those crops require a lot of irrigation and are often grown in arid regions like the Colorado River basin.

Agriculture now accounts for 92 percent of humanity’s water footprint, primarily from crop irrigation. Over half of that water is going to cattle-feed crops, according to a new study in Nature (read a review of the study here). The impacts of all that water use are building, especially in Western states. For example, many smaller streams have dried up, which impacts aquatic species and the fishing industry. In addition, levels in reservoirs like Lake Mead – a major drinking water source for Las Vegas – have fallen drastically over the last 20 years, and much of that decline can be traced back to cattle-feed irrigation.

The study outlines several solutions, including fallowing fields and reducing meat consumption – a strategy GRACE heartily embraces.

[The Guardian]

Find out more about what it takes to produce dairy and beef and why meat eats up resources like irrigation water.