BY ALEJANDRA BORUNDA / PUBLISHED MARCH 2, 2020
…”During bad drought years, the stress ratchets up on many western rivers, nudging over 50 species of fish closer to extinction or imperilment, estimates the study, published this week in Nature Sustainability.
The good news, says Brian Richter, the lead author of the study and a water expert at Sustainable Waters, is that the detailed tracing they’ve done gives growers, policymakers, and consumers a lot of power to make different choices…”
Water scarcity and fish imperilment driven by beef production
Authors: Brian D. Richter, Dominique Bartak, Peter Caldwell, Kyle Frankel Davis, Peter Debaere, Arjen Y. Hoekstra, Tianshu Li, Landon Marston, Ryan McManamay, Mesfin M. Mekonnen, Benjamin L. Ruddell, Richard R. Rushforth and Tara J. Troy
Abstract: Human consumption of freshwater is now approaching or surpassing the rate at which water sources are being naturally replenished in many regions, creating water shortage risks for people and ecosystems. Here we assess the impact of human water uses and their connection to water scarcity and ecological damage across the United States, identify primary causes of river dewatering and explore ways to ameliorate them. We find irrigation of cattle-feed crops to be the greatest consumer of river water in the western United States, implicating beef and dairy consumption as the leading driver of water shortages and fish imperilment in the region. We assess opportunities for alleviating water scarcity by reducing cattle-feed production, finding that temporary, rotational fallowing of irrigated feed crops can markedly reduce water shortage risks and improve ecological sustainability. Long-term water security and river ecosystem health will ultimately require Americans to consume less beef that depends on irrigated feed crops.