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Old 01-14-2015   #1
western slope, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1976
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 2
Sacred Cows

Hey all
I was reading Ghiglieri's book Canyon while getting ready for an upcoming GC trip and came across this page(quoted in following couple posts as its too long for one), all of a sudden I'm feeling a bit guilty about our rather steak heavy meal planning. This kind of sparked my curiosity and turns out alfalfa grown for cattle production was also pretty much the driving force behind the push for McPhee Dam. Just kind of wondering if this has gotten anyone else in the boating world's gears turning. Thoughts?

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Old 01-14-2015   #2
western slope, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1976
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 2

“…the American people to satisfy the greed of private land developers and the dreams of ranchers with their sacred cows.
Why do I say sacred cows? By 1985, according to Tad Bartimus, the Bureau of Reclamation operated 333 reservoirs, 345 diversion dams, 990 miles of pipeline, 230 miles of tunnels, 188 pumping stations, 50 power plants, 14,590 miles of canals, and 35,160 miles of smaller laterals in seventeen western states. The bureau had spent 11 billion tax dollars on all this by 1984. In the upper basin states, 90 percent of the Colorado’s water that is used goes to irrigation, and 85 percent of that water irrigates cattle feed. In the lower basin states, 85 percent of the Colorado is used for irrigation, and 82 percent of that is used for cattle. The river irrigates a total of 3.4 million acres. In the west it takes 4,200 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef (compared to 300 gallons to grow the wheat for a load of bread). The Colorado now feeds about 15 percent of America’s 100 million cattle. (Roughly one-third of North America is devoted to grazing, and each pound of beef produced also costs us an average of about 35 pounds of eroded topsoil. In California, irrigated pasture consumes 4.2 million acre feet, one seventh of the state’s water, to add only one five-thousanth--$94 million—to the state’s economy.) If all those figures are difficult to interpret, the bottom line is this: 74.4 percent of Colorado River water used in the United States – and sold at 10 percent of its development cost – goes directly into maintaining roughly 15 million cows, the most expensive cows on this planet. To spend that much money on them, they must be sacred to someone; clearly they are to the Bureau of Reclamation.”

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Old 01-14-2015   #3
GC Guide's Avatar
Flagstaff, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1990
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 520
The Doctor is an interesting and outspoken person. He IS a great guy! However, I always take what he says with a grain of salt and suggest that you do too!
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Old 01-14-2015   #4
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,930
Never read his work and need to correct that.

However, does he cite references for those numbers? I know beef takes an exorbitant amount of water to manufacture/grow but those numbers seem awfully high. The numbers I have seen show that 80% of the water moved downstream does go towards agriculture, but as a whole not just cattle ranching. The link below lists the irrigated pasture and feed crop land at 60% of the total which includes both horse and cattle. Those numbers equate to about 5 million acre feet or 30% of average downstream flow.

Water to Supply the Land: Irrigated Agriculture in the Colorado River Basin - Pacific Institute

Still huge numbers but not quite what Ghiglieri touts. Its obvious beef production consumes a ton of water and that American's consume huge amounts of the meat and dairy products. There is also no doubt that tourism from free flowing rivers most often trumps economic benefits of comparable agriculture (at least at this level of sales, as it doesn't include the entire supply line). I think most of us know the west would be healthier without as much cattle but getting from point A to B means accountability and action on so many levels. Not sure how or when that happens.

This is one of the reasons I want to raise rabbits for personal meat consumption. That said, my beef consumption is already much lower than the national average. Never understood the fascination with steaks.....

Will be interesting to see what the future of water politics holds for the Colorado River and its regional residents.

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Old 01-14-2015   #5
Old Guy in a PFD
Tucson, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1967
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 1,022
I'm a bit torn on this one; on the one hand I do like my meat. On the other hand, I intensely dislike how the "special interests" took over daming the Dolores to grow their hay and beef, and how the promised economic boom for the area fizzled. To say nothing of killing off my favorite river (RIP).
That said, I challenge the numbers as well; 4,200 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef? Nonsense. Show me the math.
I smell special interests.
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Old 01-14-2015   #6
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Buena Vista, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 4,207
I always feel a bit guilty when not eating locally sourced, grass fed beef....and even that is still very water dependent. Unfortunately it is part if living in a society that has moved beyond being self supporting. Try and grow your own produce and buy locally sourced meats....but I wouldn't feel to guilty about your food planning on the Grand. Plan for a good trip and live your life without regret.
GARNA’s mission is to foster stewardship of the resources of the greater Arkansas River region through education, volunteerism and experiences.
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Old 01-14-2015   #7
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Belgrade, Montana
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 1,660
I real quickly calculated (based on some googled numbers) the loaf of bread calc and got half what they did (assuming all crop-water requirements were met with irrigation - no precipitation). For white bread I got about 245 gallons per loaf, 115 for wheat (the yield of white flower is half that of whole grain - according to the site I looked at (national grain association I think) ~ 42 loaves of white and 90 of wheat per bushel... Montana averaged 38.9 bushels per acre in 2013 (another google search).

If you use precipitation for Bozeman on a dry year (80% exceedence) the numbers were approximately cut in half again... on a normal year (50% exceedence) it was 1/3 of the authors claimed requirement ~ 90 gallons for white and 45 for whole grain.

For Montana DEQ demand figures the state engineers use a figure of 22.5 gallons of water per day/cow for 8212 gallons a year. This is a huge number is generally for estimating requisite supply for water systems. But moving on: Maturation is dependent on many factors but assuming 5 years, than it takes 41062.5 gallons of water input.

How much of that is considered consumed? We use 2-5% for domestic consumptive use estimates, so conservatively 10% would be roughly 4100 gallons over 5 years... not too far off the claimed volume. My guess however is most (98%) of the water they drink gets "returned" and they take more like 3 years to mature, so it's likely they "consume" (that is remove from the system) closer to 500 gallons in their life.

Interesting none the less. I would have guessed much lower for both bread and cattle.

Remember, though a lot of wheat is grown dryland, without any irrigation. That's another thing to consider.
Yesterday's gone on down the river and you can't get it back. - Agustus McCrae
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Old 01-14-2015   #8
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,930
the quick source I just found says 1800 gallons, so 45% of the number he provided in the quote above

and to what elk haven mentioned above.....its an ecological maxim that "there is no away", so that water ends up somewhere in the system. A likely answer is much of it ends up back in the ecosystem that the cow is grazing.

anybody know the water requirements of beans and legumes? Guessing much less per pound but no time right now to google.

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Old 01-15-2015   #9
Fort Collins
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 129
And that is why I eat deer and elk...just trying to save water.
"If I'm not there, it means I'm dead...or late!" General W.R. Monger
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Old 01-15-2015   #10
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 139
Stop eating meat and the boating will improve

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