A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Monday, May 1, 2017

Spaghetti Western Water War Redux

My students and I have studied many a water war, and wrote this article on the water conflict that probably best epitomizes the water pistol slinging and hydropolitical melodrama of a western water war - the conflicts associated with domestic or *exempt* wells (in all their forms and associated nomenclature and references). But just when you think you have cornered the market on a particular genre of water conflict, in comes the Canadians to change the game ranging from sloganeering (America First vs. Canada is Back) to legalization and sale of specialty crops.

Yes, the new varietal of the Spaghetti Western Water War focuses on, of all things, the colors of water!

"Just replace ranches with “delegates,” hired guns with “scientists,” sagebrush with “laptops,” bullets with “research papers,” and Texas Ranger with “Canadians,” and a very similar scenario recently took place at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Livestock Environment Assessment and Performance (LEAP) partnership meetings in Rome."

This article in Canadian Cattlemen - The Beef Magazine - describes the dispute as a battle of water indices between the “Water Footprint” and “Lifecycle Analysis” groups.

The Water Footprint approach is relatively straightforward. It estimates how much surface (blue) water is used to water cattle, make fertilizer, irrigate pastures and crops, process beef, etc., how much rain (green) water falls on pasture and feed crops, and how much water is needed to dilute runoff from feed crops, pastures and cattle operations (grey water). Adding these blue, green and grey numbers for cattle produced throughout the world produces a global “water footprint” for beef. Because cattle are large, eat a lot, and live a long time, beef’s water footprint is larger than other plant and animal proteins. In accounting terms, they focus on the “total expense” number.

The Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) approach focuses on the blue water that we deliberately choose to use to produce beef instead of some other food. Green water is discounted because rain falls on the land whether cattle or feed was raised there or not. Grey water is discounted because it is very difficult to estimate accurately. So an LCA water use number will obviously be a lot smaller than the water footprint, but that doesn’t mean an LCA is simpler. The LCA approach also considers the region of the planet the beef is produced in. Although beef production uses a lot of water, beef production may be more sustainable than trying to grow food crops in a dry environment with poor soil and rough topography. In other cases, it may make more sense for a dry region to import its beef from an area of the world where water is more abundant. The LCA can inform these assessments by also considering the impacts of beef (or other food production choices) on biodiversity, carbon sequestration, culture, etc.

In accounting terms, an LCA goes through the expense column line by line; it focuses on how much water is used at each point in the production chain. Efforts to use water more efficiently in beef production need to consider where the water is used throughout the system. 

The Gunfight at the OK Corral  is coming to an academic journal near you soon -  in the Journal of Animal Science review paper (Quantifying Water Use in Ruminant Production) sponsored in part by the Beef Cluster.

Hydrodiversify or Die.
* * * 
"We needed something beautiful, something from us. 
The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity 
in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. 
Plus, it's a natural flag—it's from the sky"

No comments:

Post a Comment