Water Use in the Dairy and Beef Industry

For many, it is shocking to hear that agricultural production accounts for 92 percent of our global water footprint. In the United States alone, meat consumption accounts for 30 percent of our water footprint, and dairy accounts for 19%. These are figures that are hard to fathom when taking into account the many different contributors to the global and national water footprint.

The water footprint is a measure of humans’ appropriation of freshwater resources. To put these previous figures into perspective, the world is 70% covered in water and freshwater resources account for only 2.5% of that. About 1.5% of freshwater resources are not easily accessible, as much of it is trapped in glaciers. National Geographic states that “only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.” Water is a scarce resource that many people take for granted. That’s why it is sobering to realize that an average hamburger requires 630 gallons of water to produce. On average, it requires 56 gallons to produce 1 oz of cheese and 48 gallons to produce an 8 oz glass of milk.  Trillions of gallons of water are wasted each year to get a hamburger on a plate or milk in a glass

Dairy cows account for 19 percent of the global water footprint related to animal agriculture. The amount of water required to keep a cow hydrated, fed, and living in clean conditions is sizeable, and then you must remember that there are nearly 9 million dairy cows in the United States that need to be sustained. This does not account for the number of cows raised for beef, though many dairy cows do end up as hamburgers after their milk production has slowed down. Calculations show that nearly 4,781 gallons of water are used per cow each day solely for production of their feed. When you take that number multiplied by 9 million, the figure is astronomical – 43,029,000,000 to be exact. California was in a drought for much ofthe last five years and California has also been the largest dairy producing state in the US in recent years. The water required to produce dairy milk is reckless and wasteful when keeping in mind how scarce this natural resource is

To reduce your water footprint and have less of a negative environmental impact, there are many actions you can take to combat this wasteful practice. First, you can reduce or eliminate your intake of beef and dairy. There are many dairy-free alternatives to traditional dairy products out on the market right now. Vegan cheeses, milks, ice creams, and just about anything you can think of! Choosing to consume vegan alternatives over traditional dairy products will drastically cut down your water footprint and can be a healthier alternative to dairy! Reducing or eliminating your consumption of beef and/or dairy can save thousands of gallons of water in just a month. If this is not an option you want to explore, there are many other smaller water-saving actions you can take at home. You can install a water-saving toilet and showerhead, turn off the tap when brushing your teeth, shorten your time in the shower, use less water when gardening, lessen the amount of times you fill your pool, and many more. One larger action you can take is to contact your local government about water saving practices. You can contact your elected officials using this website that helps you find the right person to speak with. Let them know you care about water conservation and ask them what they are doing to preserve our natural resources!

The best way to live green is to make a difference is to stay informed and make changes in your everyday lifestyle. Remember small changes really do make a difference, particularly when we are all making changes together. Keep informed by visiting the Green America website and learn about how to live a greener life.


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