An effective spring water diet?

If Floridians ate much less meat, the state’s water problems would be much smaller. Take, for example, the current controversy about the proposal to withdraw 13 mgd of groundwater for a giant new cattle ranch in the Silver Springs basin. According to the applicant, using that huge volume of water for a fertilized-grass ranch operation will make a “positive difference“(!) for the environment. The debate is about just how much water is needed to run the cattle ranch. Florida vegetarians would say that is an answer to the wrong question: just don’t eat cattle. A low or no-meat diet for most Floridians would prevent both the new proposed water withdrawals and fertilizer applications.

Other economic activities likely would take the place of the proposed cattle operation and slaughterhouse. Even on a larger scale, the economic impact of such a transition would be quite small. The Florida cattle/calf industry is only 1.5% (Table 7-3, pdf) of the nation’s total. It also amounts to only 5.3% of this state’s total agricultural income (which itself is less than 2% of the state’s economy).

Cutting way back on meat consumption is one of the most effective actions that Floridians could take to protect and improve the state’s water resources.

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  • Judy Williams August 20, 2021 at 9:58 am

    My daughter and son-in-law are now Vegans. They keep telling me of the health benefits of a plant based diet. I certainly believe in water conservation, so I guess you have just given me another reason to consider a change in my diet!

  • Justine August 20, 2021 at 12:54 pm

    I don’t think your average American is going to cut back on their meat consumption. It just isn’t going to happen anytime soon. So, the benefit of this new grassfed operation is that the meat is being raised in a healthy way as opposed to a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation). I think that is a positive step in the right direction.

  • Lori August 20, 2021 at 5:19 pm

    The immediate problem with this proposed ranch is its proximity to the Silver Springs recharge areas. There is simply not enough groundwater to sustain this operation without adversely affecting the unique ecosystems and depleting the area’s potable water supply. Floridians cutting back on beef consumption may not be effective as beef is sold on a national market. (I agree that this type of cattle operation is more humane than CAFO.) But Americans and, increasingly, other nations love beef. This will become a global issue as the world runs out of the natural resources, especially water, it needs to sustain meat consumption. Water for growing grains, water for cattle, water for slaughterhouses, etc. If millions of global citizens cut back on meat consumption, it would make a difference. Water is the most precious natural resource!

  • Allan August 20, 2021 at 10:20 pm

    I hate to rebut your criticism of the impacts of cattle on water consumption as I am totally critical of the Adena Ranch proposal. It simply is the wrong project in the wrong place, but there are places in Florida where cattle do not impose great stresses on water resources.

    My wife and I own a modest (1,200-acre) commercial, cow-calf ranch in Manatee County that for 53 of the past 54 years of our stewardship has operated without a well of any kind. Instead, we have relied on 19 shallow, artificial ponds, carefully placed to capture water table (surface) water. The severity of this year’s drought forced me to drill my first well, a 4-inch well tapping the Tampa formation of the Floridan Aquifer and using a small gas pump to shunt water to three pastures. No sooner was it finished and the check written than it started to rain, so now they call me the “rainmaker.”

    I would hate to see the Florida cattle industry die because of public demand for water. It may no longer be as important to the state’s economy as once it was, but it was one of the pioneer industries that helped open the state to development (see “A Land Remembered” by Patrick D. Smith. I am biased, of course, but I would hope the “movers and shakers” can find room for cattlemen to co-exist with the rest of Floridians.

  • Tom August 21, 2021 at 8:02 am

    Great comments on this post! I think I might agree with all of them, including Allan’s point that cattle operations vary widely in the scale of their water withdrawals.

  • Blinders August 22, 2021 at 10:43 am

    Water use for cattle operations are a very small percentage of agricultural water use. USGS Florida estimates for livestock for 2005 were 17.78 mgd. This compares with 2,739.21 mgd for crop irrigation. Marella, R.L., 2009, Water withdrawals, use, and trends in Florida, 2005: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5125, 49 p.

  • Tom August 22, 2021 at 11:06 am

    The 17.78 mgd USGS number does not reflect actual cattle water use because it accounts only for livestock watering and other direct uses. “Pasture irrigation” is a bigger water use for cattle. Then, too, one has to figure in the amount of irrigation for hay and other forage crops that are fed to cattle. I am aware of no comprehensive calculation for Florida but the meaningful comprehensive “cattle” total would be much more than 17.78 mgd.

  • Richard A. March September 4, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    This project does a good job of looking holistically at Beef cattle agriculture in Flotida.

  • Savanna October 3, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    I think that cutting back on meat consumption is a great idea. I realize that many people are not eager to change their diets but reducing consumption does not mean that everyone has to be a vegetarian. Moderation is the key, and many of us could afford to curb the meat in our diets for health benefits as much as environmental benefits.

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