Saturday, January 22, 2011

Is water our most endangered resource?

Water, or “Blue Gold”, is becoming a scarcity around the world at an increasingly rapid rate. With the effects of climate change, water privatization, and a growing world population more regions are becoming deserts and we are running out of water (Bozzo, Arcbar, & Ltvinoff, 2008). Aside from the issues of water privatization and bottled water, and increased water evaporation from land and rising sea levels, agriculture is a massive culprit of depleting our water supply. Agriculture is the dominant user of water, from raising cattle and other livestock to growing food and cotton (Lenntech, 2009).

image from:http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/tag/agriculture/
Agriculture requires 100 times more water than we utilize for personal needs. Seventy percent of the water taken from rivers and groundwater is used for irrigation, while 20% is used by industry and 10% is used domestically (Lenntech, 2009). It can take up to 100,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef (or 4000 m3 per cattle or 2400 liters for one hamburger), 4500 liters to produce 1 kg rice, 140 liters for one cup of coffee, and the list goes on (Lenntech, 2009; Project Blue, 2008). Cereals account for 56% of total calories consumed and an even larger portion of cereal grains are used to feed livestock. Growing world population and increases in meat consumption are only exhausting the amount of fresh water on the earth. With Americans consuming an average of 26 billion lbs of beef per year, the amount of water used to raise the cattle, with the combination of drinking water and cereal grains, is astounding (USDA, 2010). As Project Blue explains, “producing animal protein generally requires 100 times more water than producing a vegetable protein” (2008, para. 6).

We continue to take water for granted and we must realize that it is an endangered resource. Contrary to popular belief, water is a finite resource and even though water covers 75% of the world’s surface, 97.5% is salt water and only the remaining 2.5% is fresh water. Much of this 2.5% of fresh water is locked in glaciers, trapped underground, or polluted, leaving less than “one-hundredth of 1 percent readily available for human use” (FAO, n.d., para. 2).

FAO. (n.d.). Water: a finite resource. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/u8480e/u8480e0c.htm

Lenntech. (2009). Use of water in food and agriculture. Retrieved from http://www.lenntech.com/water-food-agriculture.htm
Project Blue. (2008). Food Production and Water. Retrieved from Project Blue - Roots and Shoots Canada Water Campaign: http://www.janegoodall.ca/project-blue/FoodProductionandWater.html
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2010, July 10). U.S. beef and cattle industry: background statistics and information. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/news/BSECoverage.htm

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