53 different fish species are at increased risk of extinction thanks to livestock farms around the Colorado river basin, which have depleted the region’s freshwater resources to grow water-hungry fodder such as alfalfa
- A new study shows that livestock farms are responsible for 55 percent of the water that comes from the Colorado River every year
- That means that 53 fish species die out in 690 different parts of the river
- The team blames water-hungry crops such as alfalfa and corn grown to feed cows
Farmers in the American West are depleting freshwater stores from the Colorado River, according to a new study by scientists from the University of Delaware.
The study found that the main cause was irrigation to grow crops that were used for animal feed – including water-hungry alfalfa and corn.
According to the study, led by Kyle Davis of the University of Delaware, 55 percent of all water from the Colorado river basin goes to cow food, something that contributed to the gradual depletion of the river.
A new study of water use in the Colorado river basin has identified 53 species of fish with an increased risk of extinction due to water diverted to farms that cultivate fodder for cattle
The river’s water flow has decreased by 20 percent over the past 100 years, because agriculture has been combined with local temperature rises to empty the freshwater reserves in the region faster than they can be replenished naturally.
According to Davis and his team, that decline has 53 species of fish locally in the Colorado River at an increased risk of extinction.
“We have looked at agriculture, industry, household use and thermoelectric power generation and have quantified monthly their water demand,” Davis told the University of Delaware. news blog UDaily.
“We then included those estimates in a national hydrological model to understand how that human water use in different river basins in the United States would lead to reduced availability for people and downstream aquatic species.”
Davis and his team identified nearly 1,000 specific locations where water flow depletion endangered fish, and 690 of those specific locations were attributed to irrigation for fodder crops.
Corn farms in Colorado are one of the most important feed sources for cattle, which has helped reduce water flow in the Colorado River by 20 percent over the past 100 years.
The cattle industry in and around the Colorado River Basin feeds people throughout the United States, with large business beef to Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Denver and elsewhere.
According to Davis, an immediate strategy to prevent extinction and further depletion of the river would be to pay farmers to take a season or two off from the cultivation of fodder crops and to replenish the water reservoirs in the region.
“The idea is that you pay farmers not to cultivate anything in their area for a certain growing season and the water they would have used for irrigation can then be reused for other uses,” he said.
Alfalfa is another water-hungry crop that farmers in the Colorado river basin grow to keep cattle fed
“It can be derived to increase the availability of urban water or used to increase the environmental flows and the water available for natural systems.”
“We have discovered that vomiting programs are really effective in terms of water saving or effective re-use.”
Such a policy can be useful in other parts of the country, where 23 percent of all the water used in a given year goes to agricultural crops for feed.
Although the effects of the depletion of water resources are specific to the Colorado River basin, beef produced there is shipped throughout the country – including to Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles
“Livestock plays an important role in food security and nutrition, but their impact on the environment can be great,” Davis said.
“By ensuring that beef and feed are produced in places where water resources are relatively abundant, this can help find a balance between satisfying our diet and protecting the environment.”
“All in all, it’s good to know where your food comes from and what natural resources it needs to ensure that each person makes better-informed food choices.”
HOW DOES EATING MEAT AND MILK PRODUCTS HARM THE ENVIRONMENT?
Eating meat, eggs and dairy products harms the environment in a number of different ways.
Cows, pigs and other farm animals release huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Although there is less methane in the atmosphere than other greenhouse gases, it is about 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide in retaining heat.
Keeping livestock also means converting forests into agricultural land, which means that CO2-absorbing trees are being felled, which further contributes to climate change.
More trees are being cut down to transform land for growing crops, as about a third of all grain produced in the world is used to feed animals that are bred for human consumption.
Factory farms and growing crops also require huge amounts of water, using 542 liters of water to produce only one chicken fillet.
In addition, the nitrogen-containing fertilizer used on crops contributes to the emission of nitrogen oxide.
Nitric oxide is about 300 times more effective in retaining heat in the atmosphere. These fertilizers can also end up in rivers, which further contributes to pollution.
In general, studies have shown that vegetarian food can halve your CO2 emissions from food. Becoming vegan can reduce this even further.