Go Green Monday to Ditch the Drought
by Katie Cantrell
This article was originally featured on JPRI.
As most Californians have heard by now, our state is in the throes of a critical drought. Last year was the state’s driest since record keeping began in 1895. Over half of the state’s counties have been labeled primary natural disaster areas due to the drought.
Amidst this crisis, much attention is being given to ways that citizens can help reduce our water usage. Counties are imposing fines for over-watering lawns. Billboards and public service announcements urge people to take shorter showers and turn off the tap while brushing their teeth. Restaurants are forbidden to serve water unless specifically requested by customers.
These exhortations are well-intentioned, but there’s one gaping problem. Consumers account for just 4 percent of water usage in California. Agriculture accounts for 93 percent, with roughly half of that water used by the meat and dairy industries. Rather than looking at our faucets, we should be looking at our forks.
By far the most effective way for consumers to decrease our water usage is to eat less meat and dairy. A single hamburger takes 660 gallons of water to produce, while a veggie burger with equivalent protein takes just 52 gallons of water to produce. A gallon of milk takes 880 gallons of water to produce, while a gallon of soy milk with equivalent calcium takes just 50 gallons of water to produce.
The California Water Board’s website advises that by reducing shower times by 1-2 minutes people can save 5 gallons of water. They fail to mention that by switching from a hamburger to a veggie burger, or cow milk to soy milk, people can save as much water as an entire month’s worth of showers
Decreasing meat and dairy consumption will also help protect the remaining water from pollution. There are over 9 billion animals raised for food every year in the United States, and all of those animals poop. In fact, farm animals in the United States produce 130 times more waste than the entire U.S. human population.
Yet there are no sewage pipes or treatment plants for animal waste; most of it is sprayed onto land surrounding factory farms, where it seeps into local water tables and runs off into local rivers. According to the EPA, manure from farm animals is a leading cause of water pollution in the United States, polluting 35,000 miles of river in 22 states.
This issue recently gained national attention when the residents of Toledo, Ohio, were told not to drink, wash, or cook with their tap water due to a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie, which supplies Toledo’s water. Both fertilizer runoff from farms growing corn and soy to feed to animals on factory farms and waste from those animals themselves have been implicated in the toxic bloom.
Thus the best way to both maintain and protect our water supply is to decrease the demand for water-intensive and water-polluting animal products.
Luckily, it’s never been easier to eat a more plant-based diet. An international initiative called Green Monday is drawing attention to the connection between food choices and sustainability by encouraging individuals and institutions to choose vegetarian options every Monday
While it may not seem like one day per week would have a large impact, a person eating a plant-based diet saves 600 gallons (or more) of water per day, compared to someone eating the standard American diet. So if everyone in the country ate no meat or dairy just one day per week, it would save 192 billion gallons of water. Of course, choosing plant-based meals multiple days per week makes an even greater impact. But we all have to begin somewhere; starting the week off in a healthy, sustainable way makes us more likely to make good choices for the rest of the week.
Pledge to go Green Monday, and remember that every time you choose a plant-based meal, you’re reducing your “foodprint” and helping the environment in a powerful, tangible way.
NOTES “How Much H2O is Embedded in Everyday Life?” National Geographic website. Accessed May 21, 2015.  “Reducing Water Pollution from Animal Feeding Operations.” Statement of Michael Cook (Director, Office Of Wastewater Management) and Elaine Stanley (Director, Office of Compliance, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) before the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry and the Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource Conservation, and Research of the Committee on Agriculture, U. S. House of Representatives. May 13, 1998. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website. Accessed May 21, 2015.