Got Water? Drought It.

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Authors: Brendan Molloy, Jean Baptiste Tooley, Katelyn O’Neil, Aria Berluti, and Leah Star (not pictured).

Do you remember the Watergate scandal way back in 1972? Or what about the Edward Snowden scandal that occurred as recently as 2013? Let’s also just take a moment to look back on the Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal from 1998—remember that? These three mind-boggling events in US history all have one common thread—they prove that the US government loves to lie to its citizens and is capable of corruption. With this in mind, take a moment to ask yourself, how can I possibly trust anything the government tells me? After years and years of scandals and lies being uncovered, I think it is safe to say that we should be skeptical of the government-sponsored messages thrown our way. Certain problematic topics that have been circulating in the news as of late should be evaluated with a critical eye, particularly the notorious California drought. This topic has sparked a mass hysteria and many Californians have been wondering what on earth they can do to minimize this issue. However, can they really believe that the government’s suggestions to take shorter showers and stop watering their lawns will actually make a difference?

Absolutely. The drought is affecting the best location possible—liberal, environmentally conscious California. Californians care about the future of their beautiful state and take it upon themselves to reduce the amount of water they use because they know it means protecting nature. Not only this, but California’s governor, Jerry Brown, even models this kind of behavior himself. He “has ordered a 25 percent reduction in water consumption” and admitted to the press that he “didn’t take a shower this morning” in a recent interview (Merda). According to Brown, “water conservation goals are being met…by skipping a shower or two now and then” (Merda). If his example is any indication, reducing the amount of time one spends in the shower is a simple, yet effective way all Californians can contribute to ending the drought. It is in every California resident’s (including Governor Brown’s) best interest to take these measures because of their deep desire to preserve the beautiful nature that makes up the sunny state they love to call home.

However, if you look closer, Californians are not as aware as they seem and the government is just feeding them more lies. In reality, the messages from the government telling California residents to shorten their showers and let their lawns turn brown are only distracting them from addressing the actual problem: the meat industry. As much as they have been told that they as individuals are the primary cause of the drought, it is actually “agriculture [that] accounts for 80 percent of California’s water consumption” (Sadler). As a result of their ignorance, the large players in the drought are not being held accountable, nor are consumers being incentivized to hold them accountable. Without knowing that the meat industry is at fault, Californian’s continue to purchase meat and support these businesses. Californian’s are especially unaware of this problem because many of them live in metropolitan areas that are not directly affected by the drought. But imagine you are an affluent California resident living in a large city and you are told that if you eat meat you will not have access to any water whatsoever. If this were the case, most people would probably stop eating meat. Although this may not be the exact reality at the moment, collectively that is the choice we are making, whether we know it or not. This is problematic mainly because wealthy, private citizens who live in metropolitan areas often have the loudest voice and the most political influence, but do not truly experience the consequences of the drought. While it is the government’s responsibility to inform citizens about the actual sources of the California drought since water is a common pool resource, it has failed to do this. Therefore, in order to receive accurate information about this issue, the people we should really be taking directions from are those who face the challenges of the drought on a daily basis.

The Problem

There’s an east side west side disparity in Porterville, California that very vividly depicts the drought in this state. While those of us living a “west side” kind of life, referring to a more luxurious one, may not notice the effects of the drought yet in our daily lives, there are serious social justice issues being exacerbated by the lack of water in this state. While the majority of Santa Clara students I interviewed in the fall consciously consider the length of their showers and turn the tap off when brushing their teeth, there are over 2,400 homes in the Central Valley without running water with which to make such decisions (“The Challenge”). We still enjoy green grass, clean laundry—if we feel like doing our laundry—and lots of meat. Why I bring up meat will be discussed later on but Shower Parkingyes it’s true that people in the Central Valley eat lots of meat as well. They don’t, however, have any water in their wells. In East Porterville, 3,000 residents are without water (Smith). That’s half of the population. Some have been without water for two years, some even for four. To shower, they go to their local church where portable showers have been installed. There is a parking sign that reads, “Shower Parking.” On the other side, on the west side, there are sprinklers inadvertently watering the sidewalks as they sporadically release water, likely aiming for the bright green lawn that lays next to the sidewalk. This is clearly a social justice issue as East Porterville is mainly inhabited by poor Latino families, but it goes beyond class distinctions. This is a food problem, and more broadly a communication problem.

The same regions that are seeing their wells run dry are the heart of the agriculture industry. When the reservoirs began to appear significantly depleted, the agriculture industry turned to groundwater, “reducing the economic impacts of the drought for the agricultural sector now, has shifted the burden to others” (Cooley). Those “others” are mainly, but the impacts are spreading to a greater breadth of “others”, those who relied on well water rather than municipal water sources. Farming in Tulare County, where East Porterville is located, brought in $8.1 billion in 2014, more than any other county in the nation (Smith). Too bad their residents don’t have access to a UN declared human right as a consequence of this economic prosperity that we all, as beneficiaries of living in a state with such a booming economy, enjoy.

If you’re thinking, well that’s too bad for those people but someone will help them out and anyway I get my water from the state and they won’t let me down, think again. First, the drought might engulf you in flames, we see wildfires increase as the drought intensifies, so you should be worried about that even if you don’t care about social justice, and second your government doesn’t quite have your back. The government is worried about the economy. And the economy here is largely agriculture. Specifically, animal agriculture accounts for 47% of the water footprint of the state according to the Pacific Institute (Fulton, 3). And the state’s not talking about it. They’re all caught up with showering and well, it seems like so are the conscientious people I’ve interviewed. But direct use only accounts for 4% of the water consumption of the state, and that includes household use like showering (Fulton, 3). So maybe we can continue to relish our showers as we appreciate the fact that we have municipal water, but we should probably stop consuming those food items we put relish on before things start getting worse.

The Facts

As the Californian Drought continues to extend, and we begin to see all of these effects, residents are asked and required to cut water usages.  Many California residents take this water crisis very seriously and do everything they can to cut water usage.  In fact, from February 2015 to February 2016, 1,280 official complaints were made, in the city of San Francisco, over neighbors using excessive amounts of water (SCPR 2016).  Unfortunately, individuals have a very minimal impact on the total water usage in the state.  The main users of water are farmers, and in particular, beef farmers.

California is home to 5,200,000 heads of cattle according to data compiled by 2016 USDA research group.  These cattle consist of 5.65% of the United States total herd (USDA).  Out of the top ten cattle holding states, California is the only one west of the Rockies. Cow Furthermore, these Californian cattle are grazing in some of America’s most drought-affected land according to the Water Stress Index.  California’s Central Valley and Southern regions hold a vast majority of the cattle in the state.  However, these areas hold a scarcity rating averaging out to 3 while Texas, the largest producer of cattle, holds a rating averaging somewhere between .1 and .3 (Kerestes).  California simply does not have enough water to support over five million heads of cattle.  Beef magazine released findings in 2005 stating that the average weight of a cow at slaughter weighed roughly 620 lbs (McMurry).  Furthermore, the USGS released results showing that a pound of beef takes over 1500 gallons of water to produce.  By averaging this out for a whole cow, it means every cow needs roughly, 930,000 gallons of water by the time it is slaughtered.  In 2014, California produced and sold 1,450,000,000 pounds of beef (Kerestes).  This beef required about 2,175,000,000,000 gallons of water.  For reference, the San Francisco public utilities commission used roughly 20,808,000,000 gallons of water in 2015 (SCPR 2016).  It would take San Francisco 14 and a quarter years to use the amount of water the Californian Beef Industry uses annually.

The Reason

We can’t choose what we do and don’t enjoy without the knowledge of the effects these pleasures cause. The government and the media hold the position of an informer in the current societal structure, and it is a position they have failed at. With the meat industry having such a large hold on the economy the government and the media have chosen to


Humans: 5.2 billion gallons of water and 21 billion pounds of food Cows: 45 billion gallons of water and 135 billion pounds of food

refrain from telling the people of the United States, especially California, what they can do to best conserve water. California is the second greatest provider of meat for the U.S, following only Texas. According to Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, the California livestock industry consists of just under 7% of total US livestock totaling at 12.5 billion in 2013. 85% of livestock production is California is beef/dairy related. (California Drought) California is a hugely agricultural/farm-based state, with a large amount of its economic and job opportunities stemming from that field. The government has a strong desire to protect that industry, not just in California, but nationally. Similarly to its weight in the California economy, the meat industry has a strong hold on the national economy. The livestock industry supports US federal, state, and local economies through direct taxation, totaling at about $81.2 billion. The consumption of meat and poultry produces about $2.4 billion in state sales taxes, something very relevant to California given our rather heavy sales tax of close to 10%. Along with taxation, the economy is supported in job production, something we have been greatly focused on recently. Nationally, the livestock industry employs 6.2 million people producing $200 billion in wages. (United States Meat Industry) With this influence and economic success, it’s no surprise that the meat industry has a hold on the government as well.

   The term ‘corruption’ isn’t all that far-fetched when it comes to policy makers and the meat industry. As seen in the documentary Cowspiracy, a variety of environmentalist organizations and members of Congress were influenced by donations or other methods by the big companies in the meat industry to ignore/hide the true facts and/or vote for legislation that favored the companies and not the environment. Former farmer Howard Lyman shares in his novel Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher who won’t Eat Meat his experiences in the industry, and his knowledge of the corruption. A former factory farmer went organic after medical issues brought to light the horrors of the industry Lyman shares his experiences after becoming a lobbyist against the larger meat industry. Though Lyman’s experience was regarding factory vs. family farms and the use of pesticides, the sentiment remains the same with attempted legislation regarding the meat industry and water. “The only problem was that the bill was considered by Capitol Hill insiders to be destined for defeat. Petrochemical interests were lined up against it, and the first rule for most members of Congress is: when in doubt, vote no.” (Lyman 78) When trying to pass a bill defining what the term organic was, in a way that these petrochemical companies were not in favor of, Congress leaned towards the no-solely because the bill defied the interests of some major money holders. However, not only do these industries affect what legislation is passed, they also affect what the government chooses to tell the public. At the time of the Mad Cow Disease (BSE) crisis governments willingly, and easily lied and/or withheld the truth from the public in order to preserve economic interests. People are less likely to buy meat that is infected with a neurological disease that may kill them so the government conveniently leaves that piece out. Certain parts of the cow are more likely to infect a human with the equivalent of BSE- CJD. And yet “although federal regulations forbid the inclusion of bone, bone marrow, and spinal cord in ground beef, an Agriculture Department survey in 1997 found those materials present in the ground meat it tested.” (Lyman 98) Additionally, in a country where we theoretically have the freedom of information, public documents aren’t all that accessible. When Lyman was researching potential cases of BSE he went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture office to look at documentation regarding visits to farms with suspected cases of BSE as well as other documents. He was not allowed to bring a pencil and paper to take notes on the documents but was told that every document he indicated, with paperclips, that he wanted to be copied would be copied and given to him. After finding some slightly useful documents he found one field report regarding a suspected case of BSE, indicated that he wanted a copy and continued working. When the copies were ready “all the tedious documents quantifying animal carnage were there. Guess which one wasn’t. I had just received a quick education in the government’s view of freedom of information.” (Lyman 99)  The government has shown us that when it comes to information that may negatively affect the meat, especially cattle, industry whether it be legislative or disease, they will lie and withhold the truth to preserve the industry. Between the economic importance of the meat industry, and the political influence it holds there it is quite clear that the government chooses to look the other way when it comes to the environmental detriment of the industry, forcing the citizens of states in grave danger, such as California, to do minimally helpful things when they could be doing much more.

All of this may seem daunting.  The rabbit hole seems to be never ending.  How can you the reader do anything to stop such a widespread problem such as the supplements that the government receives from the meat industry?  How can you help spread the message of this real issue with the way the government chooses what to focus on and what to conveniently omit from their attempts to mitigate the effects of the drought.  The most important thing you can do is look at the facts and do something in your life.  It’s easy to point a finger at the government and say “They have to change” but the fact is, they are not the ones eating the meat, we are.  The best thing we can do is talk with our wallets and stop funding the meat industry that is so responsible for the drought.  The less demand there is for meat the less water will be used.  We are not suggesting that you must give up meat entirely and become a vegetarian but small steps are good.  Maybe try meatless mondays or choose the vegetarian option when it sounds just as good as the meat alternative.  We are the ones funding the meat industry thus we are the ones that must do something in our lives to fix this problem we have created and is ravaging this state that we all love.


Works Cited

“All Cattle & Calves by State…” All Cattle & Calves by State… USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service Data, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

“California Drought: Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Sectors.” USDA Economic Research Service. USDA, 25 June 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Cooley, Heather, Kristina Donnelly, Rapichan Phurisamban, and Madhyama Subramanian. “Pacific Institute: Research for People and the Planet.” Pacific Institute. Pacific Institute, 26 Aug. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. Dir. Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn. 2014.

Kerestes, Dan. “Livestock Slaughter 2014 Summary.” National Agricultural Statistics Service, Apr. 2015. Web.

Lyman, Howard F., and Glen Merzer. Mad Cowboy.: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat. New York: Scribner, 1998. Print.

“San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Monthly Water Use Data.” KPCC. Southern California Public Radio, Feb. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

“The United States Meat Industry at a Glance.” North American Meat Institute. N.p., 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

“The Water Content of Things:How Much Water Does It Take to Grow a Hamburger?” How Much Water Is in Common Foods and Products: USGS Water Science School. The USGS Water Science School. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

McMurry, Bryan. “Cow Size Is Growing.” BIG Mamas. 1 Feb. 2009. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.  

“The Challenge.” Community Water Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Fulton, Julia, Heather Cooley, and Peter H. Gleick. California’s Water Footprint. Rep. The Pacific Institute, Dec. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Merda, Chad. “California Gov. Jerry Brown Is Conserving Water, Skipping One Shower at a Time.” Sun Times National. N.p., 9 June 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.

Sadler, Amelia. “California’s Drought: The Meat of the Matter.” The Daily Californian. The Independent Berkeley Student Publishing Company, 10 Aug. 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.

Smith, Scott. “When the Wells Run Dry: California Neighbors Cope in Drought.” When the Wells Run Dry: California Neighbors Cope in Drought. The Associated Press, 30 Aug. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.



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