It’s not exactly news that the rivers of the western U.S. are in trouble.
For decades, their water has been siphoned off by climate change-fueled heat and an ever-growing human demand for grassy front lawns and long showers. The biggest user of river water by far, though, is agriculture—and new research shows that across the western United States, a third of all consumed water goes to irrigate crops not for human consumption, but that are used to feed beef and dairy cattle. In the Colorado River basin, it’s over 50 percent.
The burgers, steaks, yogurt, and ice cream Americans eat in abundance, the new results show, is directly related to the overuse of river water—leaving the ecosystems and communities that depend on those rivers drastically stressed under even the best of circumstances.