Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Using Water the American Way

Every year when I teach environmental science my undergraduates kind of roll their eyes when I talk about the Ogallala Aquifer and our misuse of water. Yesterday's New York Times featured a front-page story about the dangers the aquifer water supply faces. What is the Ogallala and why does it matter?

Aquifers are groundwater. In some places they rest close to the surface and in other places they are deeper down. Even deserts have aquifers under them. There is an aquifer under Cape Cod. Aquifers form when freshwater from any source, for example rain, snowmelt, and glacial melting, seeps through porous layers of soil and rock and is stored underground. The water in the Ogallala Aquifer (or the High Plains Aquifer as the New York Times labelled it) is ancient. We call it "fossil water" because it originated during and after the last ice age, when water west of the 100th parallel was abundant, thanks to melting ice and moist climatic conditions. The Aquifer runs roughly north and south for hundreds of miles, from South Dakota to parts of west Texas. The region gets about 8-15 inches of rain per year so very little of the today's rain reaches the aquifer. In that sense it is a finite, non-renewable resource. 

For several decades farmers have withdrawn water from the aquifer in enormous quantities. It was cheap and easy to withdraw and with it, they irrigated millions of acres. Incidentally they made enormous profits and of course, fed millions of people. The crop circles that you see in this photo are irrigated with water from the Ogallala Aquifer. Each circle is a mile across.


The next photo is even more amazing. It is a satellite image from NOAA's Earth Observatory site. This photo really provides a sense of the extent of irrigated land that depends on the Ogallala Aquifer.


Courtesy of NOAA Earth Observatory

Most of the water that is drawn from the aquifer is used for farming in conditions that are semi-arid to arid. And most of the crops that are raised are grain or fodder that is fed to cattle and other livestock. Livestock is raised to provide meat for the millions of people in the United States and elsewhere who choose to depend on it as part of their daily diet. So the critically low levels of water in the Ogallala Aquifer are attributable to our hunger for meat. 

The article in the New York Times touted the "miracle" of providing so much food grown in a dry but fertile place, and one commentator declared the problem of the aquifer to be "economic" at its heart. Draining the Ogallala Aquifer for meat is an economic problem but its scope is much larger. It threatens our ability to feed ourselves in the coming decades.

I have a student who stated that human inventiveness would find a way around this problem. But there is a certain bottom line. Where meat consumption and water consumption continue to grow, and where resources are finite, the end result transcends what we can invent our way out of. Either we must move away from meat consumption (we can't seem to break our habit and the rest of the world is following suit), move to exploit other localities and water sources (we have already done this at tremendous, ongoing, global ecological cost to places like Amazonia, where the rainforest was cleared for pasture). Or we will continue down the road to a system of food production and consumption that is ever more inequitable as we lose control over the right to feed ourselves. 
As the right to eat becomes a privilege, the devastating results are pretty horrible to imagine.

Human cultures have thrived for hundreds of thousands of years without the gross consumption of meat that has become the norm for us. Human ingenuity from diverse cultures has come to the fore in managing water, collecting water, and storing water in ways that we are only beginning to learn. 

Back to the classroom. When I teach environmental science I inevitably discuss the demise of the Aral Sea, an example of mid-20th century ecological mismanagement by the former Soviet Union. The death of the Aral Sea was a slow motion disaster that unfolded over several decades. Abundance eventually gave way to disaster. In the United States we are seeing the end of abundance within our lifetimes. With potential disaster on the horizon, isn't it time we Americans took a lesson from the rest of the world on how to manage our resources more responsibly?

98 comments:

  1. I will be honest I do not know much about what the going ons were with the aquifer water supply and what it faces. I know what it is and what it does, but not about Ogallala. I knew of the troubles that Kansas was facing due to an aquifer, did not put two and two together till I read this blog. The farmers did use up the water thinking there was an endless supply, but as you stated in the previous blog that the environment starts to change and the light, heat, and water distribution will change with it. Humans have changed the environment and climate in many ways that there is a domino effect that we do not see; unseen changes. The rainwater that is much needed, doesn’t come as often as it did in the past to have created so much water. The way with how mass production of food; meat, milk, chicken, etc is heading towards a different scientific route called the petri dish. Instead of natural occurrences and nature taking its course the way it is suppose to, humans are now intervening and trying to think of a way to supply to the mass population. Humans thought there was an endless supply of everything; wild animals, edible plants, water, etc.., for example wild game was and still is killed for sport and not for consumption – which ends up making the wild game extinct or protected. The future could be that we will end up completely eating if not already doing so cloned meat which is already out in the markets, or grown meat from a petri dish or even just jelly with artificial coloring and taste but full of nutrients. I think I would touch base the negative effects of what is to come, add a slight eye opener, but unfortunately, we won’t make a change until it is to late. We should put preventative measures in place now for future generations, but there is that egotistical justification, oh it will not happen to us, but everywhere else.

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  2. Its hard to say something strikes me as new when it comes to this article. I do concern myself with the worlds fresh water supply. I've watched documentaries on how the supply is getting low. We can see the results of the current drought on the West Coast. We see the ice on the polar ice caps melting away into the ocean. In places we have to much water while in others there isn't enough to sustain life. The entire time I read this I thought about the ocean water pumping stations on the west coast. They are expensive but they filter out the salt from the ocean water. Officials are bringing them back into production to help relieve the west coast drought. I wonder to myself why we don't use them often to feel our lakes inland. Rome was noted for having running water. Moving it through the city. Why don't we use new methods to move water through the country? We could relieve flooding in the east while also relieving drought in the west. We consider this option for an oil pipeline but not water? Which one do we really need to survive? Jeremy Dillard

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    1. Hi Tess-
      Any idea where the water for the citrus crops come from?

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  4. Wow! This post was a true eye-opener! What’s new & different here? To me, anyway, it’s the reminder that aquifers are a finite resource, and this fact is something that humans seem intent on ignoring. Certainly, lessons such as the Aral Sea catastrophe appear not to be taken note of, as we continue to expand instead of tightening/reducing agricultural efforts which cannot be sustained long-term. What this article highlights, worryingly, is the lack of any kind of back-up plan, as we rampantly delete this precious resource in order to nourish our desires not our actual needs. Also, what is concerning is the blatant disregard for the impact this will have upon future generations. While we may have ample food-stocks at present, what about 50 or 100 years down the line? It is absolutely naïve have the impression that we can, at some point, innovate our way out of the environmental disaster we are creating for ourselves. With this post reminding us that the best solution is to curb our appetite for meat, the end-goal of this ruinous enterprise, I think it imperative that the situation be brought to the fore of public attention.

    I, for one, was definitely not in know about the Ogallala, and now feel equipped to make better decisions on my next trip out to the grocery store. Although I do buy meat, over the last few years, it’s become naturally less and less. This is due in part to my interest/fascination with food/nutrition, and my realization through research that meat is really not the mainstay of a healthy diet. How it ended being promoted as such is just amazing!! With plant-based diets having so much more to offer, I think amplifying food education is key. If more emphasis were placed on eradicating the myth that meat was an essential part of your daily intake, the foothold of this industry might just start to gradually destabilize.

    I think if I were to go further into this topic, I would add a scenario which details/demonstrates the reality future generations will have to face i.e. the actuality of living in a world where water supplies have been exhausted and food supply is not only limited, but scarce. I think such illustration would go a long way in shaping our current blasé attitude to that which adorns our plate at mealtimes.

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  5. I never really thought of meat consumption to be one of the mitigating factors in our enormous usage of water. What may even be more damaging is the exponential growth of the Chinese middle class. Their demand for luxury goods and commodities have driven prices upwards globally. Water is a precious resource we have been taking granted for so long. Maybe people will start caring when the price of water begins skyrocketing which ultimately will be a signal to our end.

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  6. Although I am not very savvy on this particular subject matter (and now sort of feel somewhat guilty of not being more aware of it) this blog post has opened my eyes to a very sad reality. Because of my own experience just now of ignorance I do believe that awareness of this issue might increasingly benefit it. Maybe discussing irrigation for mere aesthetics can be a waste when lives are at stake. I do not have the answer there has to be a way to find a balance. As humans, we have detached from our natural ways of harmony and balance that seems to exist in nature, for some reason we tend to fall into the spectrum of greed and that has consequently turned into our necessity to abuse, miss-use, and take over or use up more than is necessary. I do feel like today people weather one way or another are being more open and even suggestive or non-meat diets, however I feel like any extreme is probably going to cause some other sort of problem. So maybe a diet in which meat-protein is not as abundant as we have made it could be another solution. I feel like a big part of it and sadly I doubt will change is mass-produce and businesses for example the meat industry, the milk industry and many other food industries who will advertise about why meat and milk are so great for you (regardless of weather they are or not) because they need to sell to make personal profit. That is the biggest issue, personal profit overshadows profit for all people, and in the end it is just counterproductive because they are part of the “all” and this issue as big as water will end up affecting them as well.

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  7. I am shocked…and feel rather ignorant at this point – not an easy thing for me to admit. You have exposed 2 topics which I knew relatively nothing about. I had never heard of the Aral Sea crisis or that the Ogallala Aquifer is being drained of its finite amount of water to feed our meat obsession. Where is our government in the monitoring of our precious natural resources…it’s not a party issue as this is not something that has happened overnight. I always thought (in my simplistic way) that some group of experts had the responsibility of monitoring our resources. Does The Bureau of Land Management or some other bureau have responsibility here? What about on an international scope? We don’t just feed Americans.

    I love meat and it is part of my regular diet, typically 3 times a week (it used to be more, but we have moved to other sources of protein on a regular basis). Will I ever completely cut it out of my diet, probably not. That stated, it would certainly make sense to have guidelines for a sustainable world that everyone could follow (or not as this is a free country). No country should be permitted to “get away with” environmental decisions that impact our interdependent world. Thanks for this eye opening and gut wrenching wake up call.

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    1. Hi Rick-

      Have you been able to find any information on monitoring or regulation on water resources in the U.S.?

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    2. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appears to have the job of monitoring and regulating water resources. But the issue is a world issue...we can do all we want here...what about the other countries involved?

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    3. Good point. Especially with ocean involvement, it's a worldwide issue.

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  8. What is new to me about this article is the consumption of meat uses up a lot of water. In reading this, it makes sense to me. As an omnivore, I do par take in eating meat even more so when I was younger because we didn't have too many alternatives for protein in my home. However, doesn't soybeans need plenty of water to grow and be turned into tofu. Every living thing needs water more or less.

    In addition, we should learn from other countries and what they have experienced in order to avoid disasters in the future. We all live on the same planet and we can encounter similar consequences because our differences are not that great.

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  9. I actually think this is a much deeper problem then a hunger for meat. I believe the mass commercialization of meat has created an appetite in American culture for meat, so I see it as a "which came first the chicken or the egg" problem. While it's easy to blame this particular aquifer drain on human consumers or Western culture's addiction to meat, I think the elephant in the room that's causing this problem is GREED.

    For starters, huge agriculture corporations came up with the absurd idea to feed cattle grain because it was cheap and they saw it as big business. Cattle should be eating grass & shrubs not grain. Not only is our meat of lower quality today due to the advent of industrial farms, but the eye for the mighty dollar (look at McDonald's slogan: One Billion Served) has necessitated that we deplete a resource which is becoming increasingly valuable (water) from a finite resource. The whole situation is irresponsible.

    Which came first? The money or our hunger for meat? Why are we gorging ourselves on meat anyway? Is it the way we were raised and cooked for? Is it the TV commercials that assault or consciousness? Is it the introduction of fast food that led to our irresponsible shifting of priorities? I think many are aware of the problems with regard to the aquifers, water supply, and unconscionable practices of the corporatization of farming, but it is a very difficult problem to unravel and undo. No matter the sense of futility to close Pandora's box or let morality reign over money, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try. This is an important topic to be vocal about and a worthy cause to take up.

    Some of your students may roll their eyes now, but they won't be rolling them 20 years from now when their children are being sent to combat in a senseless war over (not oil) ...but water.

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    1. Hello Carrie,
      I was waiting for someone to say something about the agriculture corporations. Cattle should be eating grass and be out in the pastures. Grain is cheaper and so are hormones, and so is the hormone-affecting soy feed that the majority of cattle get. Let us not forget Monsanto and their dominance over small and large farms. Greed, money, and profit, those are the things draining the aquifers, not meat consumption.

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    2. Hi Carrie-
      Wow- excellent, passionate response! Unfortunately, greed does change our landscape. The question becomes how to change our priorities. Any ideas?

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  10. It’s very disconcerting to realize the tradeoff we face in terms of what it takes to sustain our way of life and the toll it takes on the environment. I think we sometimes forget that water is not in infinite supply and the ways we choose to employ our access to it can greatly impact the ecological balance. Reading about the Ogallala Aquifer and the severely low levels attributed to overuse in growing feed for livestock in arid conditions brings to light the fact that everything we do, no matter how big or small at the time, can grow to have massive consequences. I would say that as a country, the U.S. has gotten too used to our conveniences and ease of lifestyle – that fact that we aren’t managing our resources to our best advantage is symptomatic of an overall mindset that there will always be a way to make more – but as you note, there is a bottom line that we will at some point reach. Just because we may not necessarily be able to see those consequences in the immediacy our lifetime seems to blind many from the future implications. Others may choose to adopt an attitude of “if it doesn’t affect me personally, then it’s not my problem”. The issue the Ogallala Aquifer brings to light is the fact that our major water resources are facing depletion from not just over use, but severe misuse, and it affects everything and everybody. It’s a global problem since 80% of the world’s freshwater supply is used in growing crops. Your post helps to bring home the comprehension of the true cost of the things that we perceive as inalienable rights and therefore take for granted – like eating.

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  11. By watching many documentaries and online materials that deal with concern about the nature and environment, things are clear to logical people with common sense. It is more and more prevalent that things we do as a human race are so focused on the miniscule monetary goals. Sometimes, it is sad to hear obvious malicious acts by bigger corporations because they want to make sure that they look good in SEC reports that also increase stock values for their bigger bonus. How much of wrongdoing or ill-purposed actions do we have to go through until we realized that we will have nothing left on this Earth?

    It seems like we don't know better and always tend to focus on immediate needs and benefits without thinking about sustainable and repeatable resources and get caught in a vicious cycle. In fact, we do know what we are doing but are still doing it regardless and slaved by our own dogma. Your comment about meat consumption in US which requires so many resources. As the consumption of beef increased five times since early 1900s, we have shackled ourselves with a wrong norm. We also know that meat, especially beef produces an undesirable amount of methane gas. Eating this much beef is not natural for the human species. Perhaps, the dairy industry has a cushy fall back as excess consumption of beef has become a thorn on our side health and environment wise.

    We should put more effort and work on alternate solutions by providing renewable and recyclable way to produce food for human consumption. Your writing made me think again and realized that there are more people out there who truly concern about our future well being.

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  12. I never knew about the Ogallala Aquifer's existence. The availability of technology is using up earth's resources faster than ever before. The Aral Sea should have been a great example, yet humans are greedy and do not learn from the mistakes of others sometimes. The Amazon is another great example. The environmental organizations are actively against the tearing down of the Amazon. Unfortunately, the wood industry is more focused on the profits of today rather than the future of nature. As residents of Earth, we all need to think about the resources we are using today. We need to make sure the same resources are available to the residents of the future. The blog post would be even more informational if there were more than one example of water resources around the world that are at risk of disappearing.

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    2. I believe it was Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and maybe Young) who sand, "Teach your children." What are you doing to teach your children or your neighbors or your friends about what you learn?

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    4. Hi Barbara,

      When the topic comes up, I mention my opinion, otherwise the message rarely goes through. Opinions cannot be heard unless the listener is opening up their communication lines to listen. Most of the time people listen but are not trying to understand you. When I have kids, I will certainly tell them my opinion, but it will be up to them to decide what they think of it.

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    5. Hi Shu-
      We can't always make people listen (I have three teenagers at home!) But at least if we speak, we have a chance to be heard. Silence can be deadly.

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  13. This last post really tied together the previous two—there’s definitely a common theme evident among them. Your student who suggested “human inventiveness” would solve this issue seems like either a blind optimist or a cutthroat capitalist, or perhaps some of both. There’s only so many issues we can simply “think” our way through. It just seems logical that exponential expansion of consumption of non-renewable resources will eventually lead to complete depletion. It might never happen in our generation, but it WILL happen eventually. Maybe future-humans will be smarter about issues like this. But it will probably be too late by then. Sooner or later, if we don’t fix this cycle of nonsense, we’re all going to end up eating soylent green for dinner instead of nice juicy porterhouses. Or maybe we will need Matthew McConaughey to find us a new planet to live on (so we can screw that one up to). Who knows, hopefully the machines will rise by then and we will be more concerned with Skynet and terminators and not have time to worry about picking out the nicest looking cut of ribeye.

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    1. Hi Matt-

      Your post brings two questions to mind:
      1. Do we have the time and desire (I know we have the brains!) to fix the problem for future generations without greed, but because it's the right thing to do?
      2. So what happens when we destroy Mars?

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    2. Barbara, I really want to say yes, that we do have the time and desire to fix the problems for future generations without greed, but because it’s the right thing to do. Like Fox Mulder, I WANT to believe that. It’s seems like if the right smart people gain the backing of the right rich and powerful people, then yes, we could accomplish these things. But it’s hard to get event he most altruistic individuals to care about problems that aren’t affecting their generation. The lack of an immediate threat does not create a sense of urgency in regard to fixing the issues at hand. I really don’t think people will find the time or desire to care about these problems until they are directly affected by them, or at least feeling the heat of their imminent impact.

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    3. Like the guy I run tests on from the ED who decides diet and exercise might be a good idea...after the heart attack.

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  14. Kayali Lenssen – IS380
    Although I did not know the name of the Ogallala Aquifer, I did indeed know of the pressure put on water resources by meat production. According to the IME (Institution of Mechanical Engineers) the amount of water necessary to make a pound of meat is between 500 and 2500 gallons of water, which is frightening. As basic necessities such as water and food become scarce, conflicts will surely follow.
    One way that the entire world can help though, is to actually use the food that we produce at those high costs. So much of the food produced ends up in waste bins. While education around the need to reduce meat production might help, reducing food waste (whether in overproduction in restaurants, sell-by dates in grocery stores, or either case at home) would be an easy first step to easing some of the pressure on our environment.

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    1. Hi Kayali-

      Reducing food waste is a brilliant idea. Even in my own house, I've changed the way I cook so that there are fewer things left behind and growing mold in my fridge. It's good for the environment AND saves me money. These hockey players aren't cheap to feed!

      What about using more local food? Could that help?

      B

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    2. Hi Barb,
      Eating locally could help reduce the carbon emissions associated with transport to market. I also think that advancing forms of greenhouse growth might help. Eating locally is easier when your area is a big producer, but local in some areas can also be nutritionally limiting (thinking of cooler northern climes).
      If I were implementing that I would also propose investing in greenhouse technologies, so that a variety of food could be "local" to many climes.
      Kayali

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    3. Great point Kayali! Love the idea of greenhouses. Fresh, local tomatoes in January in Boston would be heaven!

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  15. This post reminds me so much of the movie "Interstellar." I fear that at the rate we're going, we're not too far off from that happening. I knew to some extent that our natural water resources were running low, but I had no idea it was that serious or how much it really affected. It actually does make you think twice about ordering a cheeseburger! What's worse is that I don't think the general population realizes the position we are in. We need to inform and educate our communities so we can hopefully save our water, food, and more importantly our planet. I would like to do more research on this. Maybe find ways of conserving or finding alternatives for farming? Eye opening post! Thank you for sharing this.

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  16. Unfortunately humans don't change their behavior until we are actually in the midst of a disaster. That being said every major obstacle humanity has faced over time, humans have overcome it and thrived. Under pressure we have cured disease, built amazing machines, and developed things like dwarf wheat (thank you Mr. Borlaug). So in my opinion humanity will get through this problem as well, even if we can't envision the manner in which we will do it now.

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    1. Jordan - Your comment is eloquently put and I agree. I agree that we often don’t wake up and truly act until the 11th hour, but there have been challenges in every generation. I think the healthy balance to strike is one of responsibility and proactivity (not squandering resources like adolescents wasting our “parents’ money” – or in this case the Earth’s resources), but also to keep grounded with some semblance of humility that we aren’t running the entire show.

      There may be dire warnings of doom & gloom in every generation, because our ego wants us to believe we’re capable of utter destruction and utter heroism. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle and we need to keep a healthy balance. I also think part of the reason your statement is true is because humans are often either in denial or simply not aware of the consequences of their actions until it becomes impossible to ignore. So while the water issue may not be in everyone’s consciousness now, it’s creeping in there and will become louder in coming years.

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    2. Hi Jordan-

      I like your optimism and trust in our intelligence and inventiveness. And I tend to agree - we usually come through in a crunch. How bad do you think the water or pollution or drought situations will have to get, though, before we start to actively fix it?

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    3. I shutter to think how bad it has to get before we, collectively, find the will to fix these problems. In needs to get to at least the point where there is no denying that there is a problem, a notion which many people have not even gotten to yet.

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  17. Amazing how I had no idea about aquifers! I knew something about irrigation, but only enough to know that they use some tool to take water out of the soil and into the surface somehow. Nevertheless, the problem I see here is that we as humans have never valued anything nature has given us, and that and is where all of these new problems come from. What we need is not just a new invention or to figure out some way to get out of this problem, what we really need is to start putting value and caring for what we already have before its gone! This reminds me so much of an old saying that goes somewhat like this: “You don’t lock the doors until someone breaks in”. So this habit we have of don’t “fix” it until its “broken” its not the way to go, we don’t realize that we have to start caring for and presserve our natural resources so that they don’t keep braking and then having to go crazy trying to fix them or replace them.

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  18. O.K. so before reading this, the closest thing to Aral Sea that I came across was in The Little Mermaid! Who knew! This crisis, as well as the Ogallala Aquifer drainage, is shocking. It is things like this that questions the programs in place to protect our habitat and environment. Yes I’m talking to you EPA but please direct all responses to Sam Hammer LOL! In a way, I’m talking to all of us. Responsibility for our environment cannot be legislated, we all need to educate ourselves and ensure we are doing everything to protect our environment future generations. We take precautions and avoid processed foods, buy from local farmers while shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joes for example, but that’s not enough. I eat lots of chicken for protein as a part of my regular diet. Just about every day I am having chicken, eggs, etc. to provide for my 180grams per day typically. Having said that, I will make an effort to look for other sources. This is truly an eye opener!

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  19. Hi Dr. Hammer,

    Humanity has become a use and production engine with little mind to waste. Water is being wasted everywhere to process meat and water land that was not meant for agriculture. We are building, producing, and using where Mother Nature never intended us to be. The strain on the Ogallala Aquifer is similar to the crisis in California. California is experiencing its worst drought ever, yet the bottled water we buy comes directly from drought stricken areas in California. Water is a very precious and life-giving resource and its importance and need will continue to grow. We need to think about consumption and sustainability. Future generations could see wars being waged for the power to control and profit over water.

    Thanks,
    Allison

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  20. While the issues surrounding the Ogallala Aquifer are quite disturbing, I am also not surprised by the general attitudes of water conservation. The hallmark of the American lifestyle requires something of utility to be fast, disposable, and readily available. The ignorance in our understanding of aquifer formation underscores the general issue of foreseeing the future. American society is greatly concerned with renewable energy, specifically fossil fuels, because we have entangled in military conflicts over these resources. When lives are lost to capture resources, media messages of promoting renewable energy goes from a message of responsibility to almost a fashion statement. Companies like BP and Chevron have repeatedly pledged they will behave more responsibly while drilling and fracking away like there is no tomorrow. This internal contradiction in such messages is both amusing and sad for our future outlook.

    The issue of water shortage has yet to reach this point. We presume water is unlimited because we have yet to fight a war over water resources. Some states from time to time will experience water shortage but it is perceived as a regional issue, not national. Given the vastness of our nation and various regional concerns, it would require a severe shortage before a unified effort takes place and address this matter in a national conversation. Until then, we can only pray human ingenuity will truly save us before taking arms to capture what little resources Mother Nature has in store for all of us.

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  21. Human necessity for water will always drive innovation but like the article states there may not always exist progressive answers to the problems of the future. This article relates to looking forward into the future very well as we can see a problem on the horizon yet we as a culture are unwilling to actually make changes until we absolutely have to. If given a choice between changing their system of irrigation today in an effort to preserve the future of their farms, modern land owners would undoubtedly look to their wallets for the answer. With the mentality that we are living on borrowed time in terms of resources, its difficult to convince a 65 year old man whose land has been irrigated the same way for generations that he should change his sprinkler heads let alone his entire system until he is absolutely forced to. The urinals in my office building claim to use 80% less water than traditional flush systems which makes me feel good about my contributions to water conservation efforts yet I always am reminded about my slow relaxing showers every morning and realize that I need to do more to be a positive contributor to my environment.

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    1. Hi Marcus-

      Shortening those showers will reduce your water and heating bills, too! What about working with what we have? We had a bazillion inches of snow here in Boston and had "snow farms" to dump the stuff. While that snow was mixed with salt and chemicals, what about harvesting things like rain and snow?

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  22. I was aware of the correlation between water and beef production. My husband worked for a company who asked us to voluntarily avoid meat and dairy products on Mondays and then calculated the amount of water saved, over a period of a year, by those who did. I think Americans have cut overall consumption of their meat intake but I don’t know that it will ever make a big enough difference to save that much water. What I find very concerning of late is the mismanagement of this precious resource. Being from California, I am going to be hit with mandatory water reductions and higher prices all while our state has allowed Nestle Corp to remove water from our local mountains on a 30 year old expired permit. Let me spell that out. They get to take our water which costs them under a dollar for every 470 gallons, bottle it and sell it back to us for huge profits. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-water How does a state allow such a thing to go on? California and its lakes are drying up. Disaster is closer than on the horizon for us. The following link is an interesting look at how Lake Oroville has dried up. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/18/california-drought-gifs_n_5843534.html

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    1. Hello Diane,
      Thank you for bringing up Nestle, an absolute devil of a corporation. I wish water filtration had more awareness rather than the fast and easy option of purchasing a water bottle. If cities filtered their water and avoided adding horrific chemicals to it (various carcinogens, chlorine, fluoride (has a slew of effects on our bodies that no one's talking about), or how about chromium!) perhaps the giant corporations like Nestle and Coca-Cola (which owns Dasani and other waters) will start losing a larger chunk of money.

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    2. Hi Yuliya,
      Thank you for the reply. It just infuriates me that this company is making huge profits knowing that California is in a devastating drought. It really is about the almighty dollar and not is what's best for the people. Ugh.. just burns me up!!

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    3. I won't be buying Nestle bottled water anymore. Is the state government not seeing a problem with this practice?

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  23. Being Russian, of course I know of Aral Sea, but I would not be surprised if the majority of Americans are not familiar with ecological disasters. Watching the news today, where is the discussion of the ecological disaster happening in California? Because that drought is exactly that, draining the last of water that’s left in that land. In a year it will be much worse, judging from the material I have read.
    The problem is greed and profit, money is more important to the people wielding power than anything else. The cattle that is fed the grain grown in those crop circles, they’re confined together like sardines, standing all day in their own waste, with their feed being infected with E.coli bacteria from all the waste around them. This meat will go on to your shelves and you will buy it because it is cheaper, it is cheaper than the sustainably raised cattle that was allowed to graze on grass. Cheap, fast food is the trademark of America, and the people have been conditioned to expect food served to them right away.
    The major players are the pharmaceutical companies (they profit from your derailing health due to mineral/vitamin-depleted food you’re consuming), the government (they profit from corporations who support them monetarily), the corporations (just look at how much Safeway or Coca-Cola owns of your ‘food’ (stuff on shelves is not food)), they profit from millions of people addicted to their sugar and fat laden ‘food’).
    Everything must be in balance. Our world is highly imbalanced. Our water sources are drying up, our atmosphere is polluted, and our soil is depleted of vital minerals leaving our food less nutritious. Whatever your dietary choices are, you simply cannot deny the fact that good healthy grass-fed meat is a source of vital vitamins and minerals otherwise found only in pill form. As I hope to one day bankrupt the pharmaceutical companies, I stay away from pills and am progressing in healing my body through a specific clean food lifestyle. I must have meat at least a couple of times a week, and bone broth on daily basis (high in collagen, calcium, magnesium, much needed minerals). Sustainable farming and making smart choices about food consumption, and how those choices affect your health and your environment, those are the important things that need a larger awareness in this country.

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    1. Agree with you. Where did we go wrong and get out of balance? I think it started with industrialization. The far-reaching affects of greed & profit motives have been vast. We can trace water shortages, animal cruelty, carcinogens in the air, and sky-rocketing cancer rates back to this hunger for fast, convenience, greed and profit.

      The irony is, while so many corporations and consumers believe they are making life easier and more convenient or making a quick buck, these shortcuts are not for free. We will inevitably pay for them on the back end as we are doing now. There is a direct correlation between cancer rates and how food production and consumption has changed. That's no accident. I didn't want to say the "M" word but they are a huge culprit.

      At times, I look around at the way the Baby Boomers have managed the world and I sometimes feel like we've been left alone without any adult supervision. I hope as awareness increases that our generation and the generations that come after us will swing the pendulum back in the direction of responsibility, morality & ethics, shoving the profit engine back some.

      Money is not the root of all evil, but when it eclipses morality, health & a respect for human lives and nature, then, yes, it becomes a problem. Our priorities are out of whack. I'm with you sister!

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    2. Thank you for your reply! I couldn't have said it better, excellent points!

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    3. Hm - wonder what would happen to the landscape if we all started taking better care of ourselves?

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    4. Hello Barbara,
      Once a person starts to truly take care of himself/herself, there is this need to enjoy walks in the beautiful areas, to breathe fresh air. I think the world would be somewhat different. Serotonin and endorphins from working out, and more vigor in people's bodies from healthy lifestyles would lead to a generally more satisfied society - at least that's how I see it in theory.

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  24. The increased need for food is both the result of and cause of the human population boom that has occurred over the past thousand years or so, increasing exponentially it seems in the past few hundred years. I wasn’t aware that much of the water used for crops in the central Western states was from aquifers; I guess I never really thought about where the water came from or how much water was actually need to produce the incredible amount of food that is grown and raised in the United States. It certainly does look to be a massive concern if we are to continue on the path that we are and expect life to remain much the same. While your student who said we will be fine due to human ingenuity may have a point on the short term, it was human ingenuity on collecting and using that water that caused the issue in the first place. As long as humans work to control our own environment, which we have embraced as a distinguishing characteristic of our species, we will always be working our way out of one problem and into another. While a move away from meat would be beneficial in this instance, I’m not sure that moving to plant-based protein sources will suffice on the large scale. For proper nutrition and a full complement of BCAAs, a wide variety of plant proteins needs to be consumed. With this knowledge, I don’t believe most people will easily accept not having access to a full-spectrum diet as the trend toward personal health is on the rise and understanding of physiology and nutrition increases. This will result in ever larger crops as more people demand more peas and lentils and result in a continued heavy use of water supplies. The use of our ancient water sources might be slowed, but they will still be used up. The problem is the size of the population and our reliance on ground water for food production. This will be on my mind for a while as I ponder the inevitable struggle for food we will face once again as a species. There is certainly no easy answer.

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  25. What strikes me is not so much the newness of the message in this post, but the urgency being raised in terms of finding sustainable solutions to the use of aquifers. Equally valuable is the intimation that abuses on aquifer use is global, which I do confirm,with my country the Philippines as a case in point. I wrote before that the province where I live relies almost solely on groundwater for domestic, industrial and commercial use, and sits on a regional deep and confined groundwater aquifer which extends to over 30 kilometers inland and about 35 kilometers along the coast of Batangas Bay — making it always subject to sea water intrusion. Large industrial companies access the groundwater using their own deep well pumps for their sole use and unfettered commercial interests.

    Indeed there is conflict in the ways water is being utilized.When analyzed as an economic trade-off, the less sustainable practice or option prevails, which is what Dr. Hammer raised: aquifers for meat lovers. May I also add, aquifers for golfers (golf courses being irrigated regularly for mere recreational purpose; ouch! mea culpa!), for the marijuana users (cannabis uses about twice as much water as lettuce; although marijuana has been used for medical purposes too), and, of course, given the plutocracy emerging ever strongly in America, aquifers for the rich and mighty?

    I was also struck with much trepidation knowing that other countries have not learned from the Aral Sea phenomenon, which has become the model for man-made desertification of natural bodies of water. You would find it relevant to know that the waters of former abundant Aral Sea were diverted in various rivers to provide irrigation water for vast fields of cotton. When cotton industry was growing, the lake was shrinking, slowly at first and then suddenly and alarmingly quickly.

    Yes, Dr. Hammer is correct: meat is today’s cotton. We should also add that the shrinking of a body of water like that of Aral Sea reduces the humidity of the local climate, making summers hotter and winter colder. In the case of the more than 5 million people who live around the disappearing Aral Sea, millions of tons of dust and mineral salts make the air dust-laden, which are blown to their lungs when they breathe — by another force: the wind.

    How do we see the world now? Two words: Water Wars. More than 250 of the world’s largest water basins straddle more than one country. There is almost no international law — other than that water can not be owned outright by anyone — preventing or even penalizing upstream nations from exploiting water supplies in ways that harm their neighbors. Potential areas for conflict would be the Middle East, South Africa and Central Asia.

    Yes conservation is key given the static supply of water, but more crucial than that is the need to ensure the fair and equal distribution of water to all peoples in the world.

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    1. Hi Mel-
      I'm curious to hear your ideas on solving the problem.
      B

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  26. While cooking meats I have observed that a lot of water drains out of it but I feel that I was ignorant for the past years until I read this article. I could watch all the water absorb away and imagine, 'Man I first have to cook this meat within its own water' but I never think, 'how much water was given to this goat?'.

    There can be a number of facts to think about. I remember reading the author Raj Patel's works and watching his lectures on how the United States is the nation with the most overweight and underweight population disparity. While India is the nation where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Why the disparity? Is it just the economic or weight gaps or even the gaps in the amounts of resources? Resources are also like people, uneven, water, earth, fossil fuels and every other resource is so unequally distributed that its no surprise that the level of peoples' income disparities and weight is too.

    Another fact that is often argued is how much more expensive it is to buy more organic products as compared to a $2 deal at McDonalds or KFC. It is cheaper to purchase fast food that healthier organically produced food. Still we are so unsure of what is going into these foods. We might think something is 'organic' and better but water is being used up in that as well, we never know if it is just as much as the water produced for the meats used in fast food.

    Thanks for bringing up an important issue!

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    1. Hi Rosh-
      You touched on the prices of food. Organic is more expensive than McDonalds! If we could reverse this, do you think we would save valuable resources AND lives?
      B

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  27. IS380 Week 5-#1:
    I enjoyed reading this article and the message it is trying to deliver. What was new to me was the Ogallala Aquifer and how it is being used for land irrigation. The point that caught my attention is the long-term economic problems that this will cause. Society has evolved so rapidly that the earth’s resources cannot keep up. We are abusing the resources so much today that we will not have anything left for our future generations. Similar to the Soviet Union not thinking about the long-term affect of redirecting the water from the sea to the desert, we need to think carefully about what we are doing today and the impact that will have on us. We cannot just keep using in excessively and unnecessary or we will suffer the consequences.

    This article made me think of a small stream by my Grandmother’s house that I used to swim in when I was a child. The water was so clean you could actually drink it. Overtime the overuse, and littering dried up the stream and today it is stagnant water full of disease and mosquitos. Not the once beautiful clean stream I remember.

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    1. Hi Leticia-
      It's sad to think that the stream you swam in has been ruined over the course of your life - which is a blink in evolutionary years.

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    2. Hi Barbara, you are right it is just a blink in evolutionary years!

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  28. Omg! This essay is disturbing to me for so many reasons. First, I can never understand the stupidity of people who use nature for profit in non-renewable ways. I totally agree with your position on the misuse of the Ogallala Aquifer. And yes, we as a culture definitely consume too much meat. I am not a vegetarian, but I have found that if I increase my consumption of vegetables, then my craving for meat decreases. Humans, anyway, are not carnivores – we have plant-eater teeth, so plants should comprise the bulk of our diets. When too much protein is consumed, it inhibits our body’s natural process of autophagy, which is the process by which old, defective cells are consumed by healthy cells. Autophagy provides a natural protective mechanism against cancer, which I believe is why historically cancer has been less prevalent in plant-based indigenous societies. Second, yes, there are things in nature that are finite resources and if not cared for properly, will be wasted and then will not be available in the future when we need them. None of those farmers are thinking about the future. I’m also upset to learn that this really old “fossil water” is being fed to cattle. The beef industry in the U.S. is a very powerful lobby, but they don’t seem to understand the laws of nature. What they’re doing is not sustainable, and they should not be doing it. Thank you for shining a light on this problem!

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  29. I knew what aquifers were before reading this, but not about the problems with the Ogallala Aquifer. I think that as climate changes and different patterns emerge, society needs to be mobile to adapt to it. Ancient cultures did it - they moved to where the rains were or where the climate was hospitable. If it changed, they moved. But with modern property laws that is much more difficult.

    Our modernized society is new relative to the age of the earth and we have to remember that the one constant in climate and geology is change. As far as the cattle industry, I'm not sure it's necessarily an eating too much meat problem - it's eating too much in general, at least in the industrialized world. And the farmers in that area of the aquifer being subsidized to produce grain that then sits there and rots.

    This definitely got me thinking about the problems society will face as we become more and more globalized and governments with extremely different political and social values attempt to exercise control over these resources.

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  30. The path we are currently on is problematic. There are many issues that need remedy. This post has raised some thoughts in my mind. Are we really so blinded by greed that we will put instant gratification in front of our much needed plans for the future? We are currently feeding our population but we are not doing this as efficient as we need to for our future survival. I hope someone high up has a plan that I just haven't heard about yet. At the same time, I don't know if I am doing anything to help though. I am consuming and living in the present like many others. I might even be foolish in thinking that someone else will be the one to make the effort and change our way of life in order to save our future. I might need to look into what I can do to start making a difference one person at a time.

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    1. Hi Aaron-

      What could one person at a time do to help? It's got to start somewhere!
      B

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    2. It does need to start somewhere. I can inform others. The more information, the better choices we can make as a community I suppose.

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  31. What a thought provoking blog! I am fondly familiar with aquifers and their use (and overuse) here in the Central Valley in California; however the Ogallala aquifer is new to me. I recently read a government report on land subsidence in the valley and was astonished how far parts of the valley have sunk due to the drainage of our aquifers. I come from a long line of farmers in the valley and I know many who know the value of such a scarce resource like water. Like many in the States I am a meat eater, in fact my husband is in the meat industry and employees over 40 valley residents. I attended a recent presentation on a wet study done by CSU Fresno that was commissioned by my company. I believe the balance between using our scarce and valuable water resources for not only meat, but produce as well will have a profound impact on our future, and generations to come. Both of the issues you raise in this blog are complex and will certainly not be easy to solve. Thank you for being so thoughtful and mindful about how we use the finite resources we have on this earth, and I will certainly be exploring the Ogallala aquifer to be better equipped to be part of the water discussion as the valley moves forward in addressing these major issues that are being forced out by our current drought.

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    1. Hi Miranda-
      What happens to the parts of the valley that have sunk due to water drainage?

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    2. Every inch of farmland is still used. The biggest problems come from collapsed wells, causing wells to go deeper, as well as impacts to many private pumping systems that rely on gravity for water flow. These challenges are being overcome as long as surface water is still available. In California the law is such that you can drill a well to any depth on your own property. Well companies are booked out 12 months because of the need to go to lower water tables and collapsed wells. Its going to be an interesting year in the Central Valley!

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  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  33. Raising grain in this country is not without its controversy. Whether it is the discussion surrounding grain harvests that feed livestock as a depleting factor for our limited water resources or claims that Obama’s alternative energy campaign that uses corn oil to power vehicles caused a food shortage in the world and turned rice into a commodity. The issue is both political and environmental and it is not easily decided, but warrants further attention and discussion. It would be a shame to assume that we have exhausted our brain power to the point where a common solution cannot be found. I am very excited to read a post like this that brings the importance of water to the foreground, especially knowing that Professor Hammer thrives on the East Coast where water is plentiful and people are never asked to conserve. Growing up in California, things are different. I live in a drought stricken area and have been raised with conservation in mind. Not only is California a drought stricken state, but it is also our country’s largest food producer. So it begs the question, can we conserve water nationally for our collective interests? Are there alternative solutions such as desalination efforts that could combat sea level rise along with supplying coastal areas with clean drinking water? We cannot resign so easily to this problem and shifting the blame to one or the other does little to conserve or remedy our losses.

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  34. I remember that many years ago, it was a privilege to buy American meat in Honduras; we had to conform to the meat that could be produced here. Nowadays it is a common complaint in Honduras that we are unable to care for our own cattle as irrigation is not cheap, food for the cows is not cheap and imported high quality American meat is now cheaper than meat down here(loss of autonomy). Nowadays the meat business in Honduras has almost disappeared; one could make more money growing African Palm for oil, than caring for cattle, being that it is an either or predicament. It is common to hear about the benefits of American agriculture and cattle and how water for irrigation seems to be abundantly everywhere. It is kind of sad that the American fresh water is actually finite. I don't think the it would be the end of the world, it is just that when the water does run out, Americans will have to farm the way that it is done in Honduras, with great effort.

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  35. I was not aware at all of the relationship between water and food. This is certainly an eye opening article for me. We eat much less beef as a family, not because of water concerns but overall fitness. If you consider how much water is wasted in the world, even in brushing our teeth and letting the water run for a minute, it seems like conservation could go a long way. There are times when I also consider technological advances to be a detriment to the cause instead of an improvement. We have a tank less water heater and it takes minutes to get hot water at the far end of the house. Again, contributing to the waste.

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    1. Hi Carolyn-
      In my neighborhood, we're starting to see homeowners add solar panels to their roofs. Most are likely looking to save money, but they'll also draw on fewer natural resources. There have to be ways for the average homeowner to do the same with water. Thoughts...

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  36. The fresh water supply has been a major problem over recent years especially out west. The misuse or overuse of water seemingly would have a major effect on future generations and need to be addressed now. America has always treated water as if it is a finite resource and steps need to be taken to curb use. The question is, how do we set guidelines for such a plan? Not being to up-to-date on the matter, this article was very eye opening. The aerial views of the farmlands was quite impressive showing how they irrigated several million acres. Personally, I am a meat-eater and depend on the farmers to produce, so I cannot say that I don’t see that water going to a good use. Without this water, the farmers would have no way to irrigate the crops, which is why they certainly have a need for it in order to provide a livelihood for the rest of us and for themselves that we are accustomed to. The image from the NOAA’s Earth Observatory site is quite remarkable in the sense that they rely so heavily on the Ogallala Aquifer. This aquifer not only provides for millions of people, but for the livestock that they produce. The threat of losing our ability to feed ourselves in the coming decades is a real one and should not be ignored. To look at this problem a worry-free, something else will come together is not the approach we should take. The problem should be addressed now before reality sets in in decades to come. The consumption of meat has become a norm for me, which is why this article was an eye-opener, as well as how other cultures are managing their water supply so well not to have to worry about this. Another Great article.
    -Dennis

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  37. Very interesting, especially the part about being responsible with our resources. Living in many areas that were great at using the land to benefit the people who lived on it; I took for granted all that the earth and it's water supply gives us. It was not until I moved to NYC which does not maximize on the resources right outside of the city limits, in terms of producing food for those who live here that I truly gained an appreciation for having fresh produce that was grown and well maintained by the earth. When I was living in Georgia there seemed to be an endless supply of fresh produce; fruits and vegetables and I expected these items to stay fresh for a decent amount of time. Now living in NYC regardless of where you show, a street corner, deli, bodega, or grocery store finding fresh produce that is easily accessible is always a challenge. Today I bought mushrooms and I planned out a number of meals that I could make that would ensure I use them by the end of the week so that I don't have to throw them out by Monday. I dare to think of a future New York that appreciates and utilizes all the earth and it's water supply can give us.

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  38. Before I started reading this article, I had no clue what an aquifer was. I always knew there’s underground water, but I never knew the name for it. The article mentions that aquifers exist even under deserts, and considering I live in one, I googled it. I found out Saudi had a significant amount of “fossil” water that is obviously nonrenewable. Forty years ago, when intensive modern farming started, there were a lot of aquifers under the Saudi desert. But in recent years, a lot of that water has been pumped to the surface annually for use on the farms. Virtually none of it is replaced by the rains, because it rarely rains here. One of the planet's greatest and oldest freshwater resources, in one of its hottest and most parched places, has been almost emptied in little more than a generation. It all makes me wonder about the possibility of deeper aquifers existing under deserts like Saudi and whether they’ve explored such possibilities. Its either that or desalination.

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  39. Why do we always have to invent our way out of things? It’s too bad that we humans can’t seem to predict or foresee a problem. It is in our nature to be reactive rather than proactive. One of my mentors used to tell me that all the time. If we are able to invent a way out of something, but know there is bottom line, than we should be able to invent something to prevent us from ever having to deal with the bottom line; thus be proactive. I have been teaching my kids to consume less, live within their means, and only use what is necessary. However, our society indulges in the conveniences of being able to easily obtain what they want, not what they need. I must admit, I have enjoyed my share of good eating. Perhaps we need a wakeup call that will directly impact our daily lives. It doesn’t seem like most of us are getting the message. Once again, reactions to shock seem to be at times the only driving force behind change.

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  40. I know raising livestock for meat consumption has a huge impact on our environment, but I did not completely understand that our resources are finite. It is scary to think we could run out of water and in California the possibility is real. I have been and on and off again Vegan, but after reading this post it makes me want to limit my meat consumption and find alternative protein sources. I do tend to buy local and from the farmer’s market which I think is one way to help lessen the impact on our environment. I do not buy meat from bulk places or fast food places. Maybe there is a balance between our desire for meat and how we raise livestock to obtain it. More needs to be addressed about staying local and buying local or mass production.

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  41. I was deeply saddened to read about how we as humans have created irreversible damage to our home. It wasn't until I researched Bahrain's water source that I learned about aquifers. Now reading this article, it has opened my eyes to the global issue at hand. Bahrain has also used up all its aquifer sources and now relies on desalination. Perhaps if we were conscious of our behavior and the effects of it we would have been judicious with our consumption. Learning about the relation of aquifers and meat consumption was eye opening for me! I had no idea. It hurts to think of our children's future. I'm sure scientifically solutions will arise but the fact that natural resources are being diminished because of our careless and reckless use is devastating. I would love for information similar to this article be spread to each individual more aggressively. Perhaps then we could reach some sort of global realization and commit to change.

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  42. We as an human society on this earth need to be as proactive now to learn, teach and implement how to live on and off of this earth. Using our resources as they are meant to be used only benefits us and our earth and the sustainability of all living organisms. I had a crack in the door to my level of awareness to the severity of our water situation, but am now standing with a door at least half way open.

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  43. RRRR.. This topic frustrates me so because I am living right here in California where we are having the biggest drought ever recorded! If one could see just from the last decade or so how our state has become green then red from satellite pictures it boggles the mind. We are sucking all the water out from under the ground that it is literally falling. No one seems to understand the urgency. The American way is to be reactive and not pro-active. It seems we do not care about things until it is to late....and please don't get me started on the use of "fracking"!

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  44. The aquifer is definitely new for me. I didn't know it was so beneficial for farming and how it helps the crops grow. It is definitely not news though, how Americans are quite used to eating meat and it is not a surprise that it is hard to not eat meat when you have been accustomed to it.
    This actually opened my eyes because I really didn't know much about farming and and how the agricultural system related to the animals and humans. Sometimes I think that America has a great system in protecting and continuing the way of life. Using the best material that is out there but not costly for mass production. I am amazed how the system can be such a vicious cycle.

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  45. As many people across the country know by now, California is in a drought. It is considered by many to be one of the worst droughts on record. Having said that, droughts are not uncommon to California; in fact, it’s pretty much a given that the state will have wet years and dries year. In my life time I’ve live through three droughts, at the same time, I recall a winter in the early 2000’s when it rained for 20 of 28 days in February. Am I a global warming denier, absolutely not. I absolutely believe global warming has impacted the earth.

    Like the farmers who use the Ogallala Aquifer to irrigate crops and feed livestock, here in CA a majority of our water is used for the same things. However, what’s happening politically has really got the policy makers confused. Governor Jerry Brown, has declared water rationing and put in place mandatory usage reductions (25% per household). On the face of it that doesn’t seem unreasonable, but people in Northern California (north of Big Sur), are upset because they are doing a better job than Southern California (Los Angeles, San Diego, and the San Joaquin & Imperial Valleys). So, the state is basically split in two about the best plan.
    Lastly, there is a petition on Change.org requesting people to sign to compel Gov. Brown and the legislators to rescind the ration, or at a minimum apply it fairly across all consumers (including farmers).

    However, what I find interesting is a comment buried in the text of the petition that talks about how the CA government (by extension the Federal Govt.) has not done a better job of preparing people to live & use water differently. The point being, if state & federal government can forecast the water shortages why haven’t they invested in re-education on par with what was done with recycling or Civil Defense.

    And so back to your essay. Who is really at fault, the consumer or the Government?

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  46. The Ogallala Aquifer is something that is definitely new to me and I feel a bit ignorant in saying that. I was not even aware that farmers withdrew water from the aquifer in mass amounts. This might sound even more ignorant but I never really thought of where our water comes from and reading this post was kind of an eye opening experience.

    Ignorance is bliss and I wonder how many people have been living in bliss like I have in regards to this issue. I have read articles about how humans can cut back on meat consumption but I have never read any ideas about how we could curb peoples appetite for meat. Maybe you couldn't but it would be interesting to maybe read about some ideas that people have to try to have people eat less meat.

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    1. Hi Melanie,
      I think that's an excellent idea to reduce meat consumption. For better health and well-being, we can save a lot of water by eating more plants.

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  47. I absolutely agree!!! We can not sustain the pace we are going. I think about this all the time. Not even in regards to the food and water we waste but think about all the clothes and shoes and store goods that get disposed after a season. Where does all this go? We just keep producing and consuming and are destroying our environment. I found it interesting with the aquifers because I was recently watching a doc on the Iraq war and the locals use watering holes like these. I was suprised because I had never heard about these before! Unfortunately I don't think this trend of american consumption no matter the threat of food becoming a privilege. We're too spoiled and are not willing to sacrifice.

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  48. Out of the three posts we had to read this week I’d say this post was the most informative about our environment. I never made the connection before that consumption of meat actually drains more water. Of course if the water is coming from an underground source verses a rivers and ponds the water can be only be replenished at a limited rate. I like how this post also tied in that connection that our economy drives this consumption. Most companies including the meat industry desires to grow not just sustain. People believe that nature is a limitless bank that they can just mooch off without returning resources. However maybe if the EPA made some benchmarks and released it. It would grab people’s attention. Just like it if a bank sent you statements saying there’s no money left to draw from. The person would realize that the gravy train is over.

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  49. I like this article the most; it seems to be more informative than the others. It certainly gives a clear depiction of human impact on our environment. I can’t figure out why humans (a smart breed) for the most part don’t understand the impact they have on our future. Just because it’s great to sustain life now we aren’t making it to be sustainable for more than just our lifetime. Humans are carnivores we eat meat to survive but we are over watering, over demanding, and then over supplying, and how much of that food goes to waste regularly. We continuously take and never want to give back. I’ve learned more about my environment and surroundings between the two courses I’ve taken with you than I have in my lifetime. Imagine how much people don’t know that could be pushed out we just have to find a way to keep them engaged. Manic people with signs tying themselves to trees doesn’t get us anywhere – it has to be common sense level headed people that say if you do this then this will happen. So many people aren’t aware of the amount we project that it cost to sustain life vs. what it’s really costing us in the long run. We are basically running ourselves out of existence using all of our resources. Not to mention so many people are worried about making a buck instead of using their inventions to help make life more sustainable and more affordable for us and our planet.

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  50. “In that sense it is a finite, non-renewable resource…” This sounds silly but I never thought of ground water being a non-renewable resource. I always thought of it as something that was replenished due to rains and flooding… After reading this article and learning more about it, I can totally understand now how draining the aquifer can really affect how to farm and grow food and feed livestock in the future. I agree and definitely think that we need to take a cue from other countries around the world about ways to preserve our resources and ultimately world around us.

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  51. I had never heard of the Aral Sea crisis or that the Ogallala Aquifer is being drained of its finite amount of water to feed our meat obsession. I want to say maybe that’s the reason we haven’t learned from them. However, it’s in human nature to not learn from their mistakes. After reading this article I am very concern for our future. We don’t know how to use our resources properly. The best solution seems to be to curb our appetite for meat. This almost seems like an impossible task. There are already so many warnings out for the public that states how unhealthy meat consumption really is. It still doesn't seem to impact the sales. It just seems to me that we will not learn or change until we absolutely have to.

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  52. Truth be told, reading this was the first time the severity of our society's meat consumption dawned on me. I've always eaten meat in a moderate amount, and have always considered it to be non-impactful on anyone or anything in particular. I've always understood the importance of conservation of water and fossil fuels, on the other hand, and have preached as much to friends and family before.

    I think you very effectively simplified this. We cannot create more meat or more water, no matter how inventive society may become.

    This blog post gave me a lot to think about. Thank you!

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  53. In the Bay Area, the news has been saying our reservoirs are full, but this article proves that our drought is not over until the aquifers are full. California is one of the largest states for agricultural production, especially milk, and almonds. We also have large, stinky, methane producing cattle farms too. I am willing to live without red meat to get rid of them!

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  54. NASA states that out of all the water on our planet only about 3.5% of it is fresh water. When thinking about 9 billion people needing to use fresh water to survive, it kinds of put the importance of saving our fresh water supply into perspective. It actually makes me thirsty just thinking about it! I have been thinking a lot of ensuring the integrity of groundwater and what we are doing about it. Chemicals and other pollutants are filtering into our soils, mixing with other water sources, and end up poisoning the current water and food supply. I didn't even know about "fossil water" sources and just assumed that groundwater is being replenished. Just like most other things, education is key. We need to educate people to understand the importance behind preservation and sustainable living. It seems sinful in a way.... using "ancient" water for irrigation....
    Zanelle

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  55. I am aware of aquifer and the limited amount of water they supply. Unfortunately, this story is similar to so many others. The essay "Using Water The American Way" can be substituted for a multitude of other instances where there is an unfair use of a finite resource. It really comes down to the way in which the political winds are blowing.

    "The California Water Wars were a series of conflicts between the city of Los Angeles and farmers and ranchers in the Owens Valley of Eastern California.

    As Los Angeles grew in the late 19th century, it started to outgrow its water supply. Fred Eaton, mayor of Los Angeles, realized that water could flow from Owens Valley to Los Angeles via an aqueduct. The aqueduct construction was overseen by William Mulholland and was finished in 1913. The water rights were acquired through political fighting and, as described by one author, "chicanery, subterfuge ... and a strategy of lies."[1]:62

    Since 1913, the Owens River had been diverted to Los Angeles, causing the ruin of the valley's economy. By the 1920s, so much water was diverted from the Owens Valley that agriculture became difficult. This led to the farmers trying to destroy the aqueduct in 1924. Los Angeles prevailed and kept the water flowing. By 1926, Owens Lake at the bottom of Owens Valley was completely dry due to water diversion.

    The water needs of Los Angeles kept growing. In 1941, Los Angeles diverted water that previously fed Mono Lake, north of Owens Valley, into the aqueduct. Mono Lake's ecosystem for migrating birds was threatened by dropping water levels. Between 1979 and 1994, David Gaines and the Mono Lake Committee engaged in litigation with Los Angeles. The litigation forced Los Angeles to stop diverting water from around Mono Lake, which has started to rise back to a level that can support its ecosystem."

    Sadly, aquifers are not the only finite resource being threatened. It's really up to us to become stewards of these resources.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Water_Wars

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    1. Hi Louis,
      I think we are not far from drying up so many of our aquifers. The Ogallala aquifer is one I often think of that's being depleted. Watering crops and pumping out water to meet the needs of people far exceeds that of recharge. They are finite in our usage rates.

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  56. This article points out the dire need for freshwater aquifers and the importance they play in our planet's viability, but what I was surprised to learn was the consequences our actions have in regards to meat consumption. I think there's a mentality of "eternal renewal" and that the world is big enough, and our brains large enough to somehow balance what we need vs what we use vs what our planet can give us. This article reminded me of something I'd read recently- it was about a "fog collector" in Colombia- a man who hung up these mesh nets that would "catch" the precipitous air, trapping the water within and using it as a water source for the villages. The problem, of course, is that we are still using resources faster than we can replenish them, but I think there is some hope that, if we can educate people enough about the scarcity of our resources, more innovators can begin to harness elements in the atmosphere and use it to feed our crops. The othder thing that caught my attention was in regards to the aforementioned meat consumption. Back when I was taking your Biology of Food course this past fall, I remember the module where you explained the impact that grazing cattle had on not only our diet but the environmental cycle of ground decomposition, evaporation, and rain cycles, just to name a few.

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  57. This entire post contained information that was new and foreign to me. Needless to say, “Using Water the American Way” was the most impactful blog yet. When starting the post, I paused, looked up aquifers and found them highly fascinating. I assumed two things that were dead wrong: aquifers can be refilled and that humans were not using them. The blog showed me the ugly truth. Additionally, I had an inkling that if we were using the aquifers it was for some great and important purpose: secondary or tertiary water supplies for large populations of people to drink if, and only if, reservoirs, lakes, etc. had reached critically low levels. Again, I was proven wrong. The added visuals of the crop circles were astonishing. My wife is a vegetarian (technically I believe she would be called an “aquatarian” since the only meat she will eat is fresh caught fish) and I never really shared her view on eating meat. However, this blog has raised some serious questions. Immediately I wondered if I was supporting the encroachment on the Ogallala Aquifer, or any aquifers at all. How could I find that source of info? Since there seem to be aquifers being drained in arid locations, it could be safe to assume I am not supporting the draining of an aquifer. If I found out I was, however, I would discontinue eating the meat supplied from those farms.

    Additionally, I find specious reasoning behind the thought that “human inventiveness would find a way around this problem.” We created the problem in the first place by being shortsighted and hasty. Why don’t we stop using aquifers? Why aren’t the local or federal governments putting bans on taking from these ancient wells? Or, why don’t farmers who are using the “miracle” of aquifers stop and realize that their surrounding landscape just doesn’t support that type of animal husbandry? As stated in the blog, it appears humans are not going to stop their behavior of eating meat. Therefore, we must use common sense to find a solution. Proper education of where the water supply is coming from is just one of the main aspects that the American public needs to know about. Like the conundrum surrounding the continuous reliance on fossil fuels, why don’t we find alternate transportation that does not rely on gas? Instead we continue to mine and create new ways (fracking) of finding gas and oil.

    The biggest takeaway from this article for me was getting the word out. I sent this article to friends and family, making sure to include my own context around why this was important – especially to those who do eat meat.

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