No one wants their meat bony and dry, at least the animals themselves and those who eat them don’t. The point being, in the words of a favorite eco writer – “It takes a lot of water to grow and feed a large mammal, and yet more water to cut it up into small pieces and clean up the mess.” Besides beef and pork, the raising and processing of our poultry and of our dairy cattle for our milk, butter and cheese are also water intensive. Growing alfalfa here uses more water than cash crop almonds, and most of it goes to dairy cows.
How much water? California, behind only Texas, uses between 100 and 250 million gallons of water PER DAY of freshwater withdrawals for livestock production – 47% of all water used in California. In short, most of all of the water used in agriculture in the state is for meat and dairy. A pound of beef took at least 1600 gallons of water, some estimates run much higher. A half pound burger required the equivalent of tens of showers (at 2-4 gallons per minute).
I sat this morning happily eating a dish of local almonds and strawberries with some (not local) cereal, coconut and soy milk, and was grateful to have been able to speak to Nate, of Fat Uncle Farms where my almonds came from. Since almonds are a huge product of California AG and use lots of water in a drought stricken state, they’ve been a controversial item in the news lately. Nate’s family relies on these bits of goodness for their living, and he is a cool and articulate guy. As one who is truly knowledgeable, he made it clear to me that this is indeed a complex subject. And so here I am trying to express a nut’s worth of it here.
There are basically two types of irrigation used for almonds, etc., flood and drip. Flood, as its name would express, uses much more water than drip, which is an expensive system that bigger farms have come to employ, to save on water bills, a good thing. There can be a positive side to the flood type though, and that is that it goes into the ground and recharges acquifers, the water is not “used up”. If there are no bad things in that water, e.g. pesticides and chemical fertilizers, we get it back.
Most of California’s almonds are exported, 80% of the world’s supply comes from California. It is a lucrative cash crop for the state. This gives the big growers more political clout and subsidies, but can also make them less responsive to local conditions. A farmer who sells his goods locally, like Fat Uncle, is perhaps more aware of any local, social and climate repercussions of their activities. Water prices will go up, and the almonds will cost more, people will make that connection. Right now, all almond farmers are risking that they will continue to be profitable, meaning that they will be able to get the water they need, and that is between nature and the state’s water infrastructure and regulations to determine.
California – great place to live, except for the not anywhere near enough water part! After yet another rainy season, very low reservoirs and not enough snow to feed our rivers. A third of our water comes from Sierra Nevada snowpack which is now 5% of normal levels, the Lake Tahoe Basin is at 3%.
The New York Times published this interactive map that shows current residential water use throughout the state. The national average is 80-100 gallons per day. I am proud to note that Santa Barbarans are doing well at 52 gallons per day, although Goleta has us beat at 47! Considering that water runs from our taps at 1-4 gallons per minute, it is clear that quite a few of us are taking short showers ! Not many cities use less than this in the state, Santa Cruz is among the lowest at 46 gallons per day, so congratulations Goleta! Obviously those people with lots of landscaped grounds are using much more. This map is fun, and telling.
Water savings tips abound, but knowing that you can look at your water meter can really help. One HCF is 748 gallons. Some meters have a fine gauge that can be seen moving with a leak.
The Bioeconomy – the fruits of this economy will move us away from synthetic goods whose production and disposal continue to pose risks for us, and will also decrease our need for fossil fuels. This realm encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food (obviously), bio-based products and bioenergy. This goes far beyond the now ridiculous seeming idea of growing food crops to power our vehicles.
Last week’s mention of Yulex, the new natural rubber, is a perfect example of this unseen world of research and development that is beginning to blossom. Here is potential for a model for 21st century manufacturing – resource efficient, bio-based and circular in its nature.