California's Drought: What it Really Means - Part 2

The Lempert Report
April 27, 2015

In part two of our series on California’s Drought: how our use of water for livestock and production is fueling a new debate.

According to the National Drought Summary for April 7, 2015 “This week saw warmer than normal temperatures impacting roughly two-thirds of the nation…most of the rest of the country experienced continued dryness”. According to the March 31st U.S. Drought Monitor report, 36.8 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up from 31.9 percent at the beginning of March. 

With drought conditions prevailing and people continuing to search for solutions, the use of water for livestock and production has reignited the debate over the sustainability of animal protein.  For example, singer-songwriter Moby, wrote a column for the Huffington Post noting that it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to produce a 1/3 lb. of hamburger. 

This in turn, has sparked many columns about growing and eating insects, as many parts of the world do, instead of consuming animal protein. In a recap of the trend projections for 2015, many food pundits named insect protein as one of the hot trends for the year. I, for one, doubt that will become mainstream.  It's a great talking point for social media and a fun debate, but to actually eat bugs will be a stretch for most people.  Then the other side to this debate, is Science. In the January 2011 issue of The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, a paper entitled “Water footprint of livestock: comparison of six geographically defined beef production systems” came to the conclusion that “the general assumption that meat production is a driver of water scarcity is not supported” and that in Australia, where the research was done, the water footprint for beef cattle production was similar to that of major cereal products cultivated in the same region. 

One of the most intelligent solutions I have heard is to maximize our food production and water use in agriculture by shifting what crops are grown where, in essence, grow crops in the bio-regions of the country that offer the best suited soil, water and climate for a particular crop. 

What seems to be rapidly changing is the way we are communicating and empowering others about food, nutrition and agriculture. Steve Case the cofounder of AOL, and Chairman of Revolution Foods, presented his insights on why he’s investing his fortune in the food business. He said the $1 trillion food business is “ripe for disruption” and one of America’s most promising growth industries. In a follow up interview in The Washington Post, he added “There are opportunities to improve the way things are done at every level: How food is produced, exported, processed, consumed. Our focus … is on investing in people and ideas that can change the world, and it’s harder to imagine anything that changes the world as much as food.”

Hopefully we can start the change with water, before it is too late.