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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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quote

“…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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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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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.

Phillip
 

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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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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.
 

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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.
 

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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.

Phillip
 

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And that is why I eat deer and elk...just trying to save water.;)
 

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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.

Phillip
In my line of work it can become very trying to try to explain to folks that you cannot truly "use" water: That is make it go away. Too many folks believe once it leaves their faucet it's gone, poof, never too return. Most of these folks cannot be convinced that most goes back into the ground or atmosphere at their respective waste water treatment and disposal sites....

Anyways as for peas, the Montana Irrigation guide lists consumptive use for peas as 11.91 inches per year. I used the same source for my estimate above and that was based on winter wheat planted in august (even though most isn't planted until early October around here) that equated to 14.87 inches per year. Typically alfalfa and potatoes consume the most water in these parts at 20.8 inches and 18.0 inches respectively.

One thing I did not take into account in my quick calc yesterday would be water for feed used by cattle... That's a really tough one to estimate as it would depend on whether the pasture was irrigated or not (as pertaining to the argument made in the original post about cost based on irrigation infrastructure) and would likely vary throughout the cows life. But it would likely raise water consumption by said sacred cows.

FWIW, I too eat a lot of venison and antelope (we typically go through 4-5 a year) but often long for a real, fatty beef stake. Wild game is sustenance, beef stake: luxury.
 

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Water doesn't disappear, but it doesn't necessarily return to the region where it is extracted. Take ranching and farming in western Kansas for example. They draw water from the Ogalalla auqifer and once that water is consumed or otherwise used the majority of it leaves their ecosystem. I'm sure they discharge treated waste water to the creeks and river, but their source is not being replenished.
 

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Water doesn't disappear, but it doesn't necessarily return to the region where it is extracted. Take ranching and farming in western Kansas for example. They draw water from the Ogalalla auqifer and once that water is consumed or otherwise used the majority of it leaves their ecosystem. I'm sure they discharge treated waste water to the creeks and river, but their source is not being replenished.
True on the above.

My guess is that "most" of the water used for irrigation from the Colorado River Basin stays within the confines of the basin in some form.

I also think the quote and information provided by OP fails to recognize the water we use often serves multiple purposes before its used for irrigation. How many dams does it pass through before reaching diversions? That alone can serve power and recreation in many places.

Its a lot more complex than the false dichotomy the author fabricates. Its one of my ultimate problems with the direction some environmentalist and writers have taken as I think it leads to disenfranchisement when stakeholders discover the nuances at stake. Sometimes the narrative that authors like Dr G offer just don't match up reality in such a clean fashion.

Phillip
 

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Water doesn't disappear, but it doesn't necessarily return to the region where it is extracted. Take ranching and farming in western Kansas for example. They draw water from the Ogalalla aquifer and once that water is consumed or otherwise used the majority of it leaves their ecosystem. I'm sure they discharge treated waste water to the creeks and river, but their source is not being replenished.
True. Deep confined aquifers are especially sensitive. But it may return to a greater degree than you realize, it just doesn't do it in human time frames. Not saying we should not worry about such things, just that the most, if not all, aquifers, do recharge in time.

As far as for irrigation water diverted from the Colorado river, most makes it back, one way or another and over time to the Colorado system. I'm not very familiar with the canal and ditch system and suspect that some is taken out of the basin, but also suspect most is utilized within it.

I see restrac2000 has just commented similarly...

But what about this thought? Some water certainly returns as surface water flow directly (or circuitously, but back none the less) to the Colorado. Some likely perculates into the groundwater system and indirectly returns to the Colorado system. This likely results in moderated flows to some degree (lower peaks and higher base flows due to temporal lag in the return of the irrigation withdrawls). Moving on, some of the diverted water likely enters the recharge areas of larger, deeper aquifers; like the Ogalalla. And of course some falls victim to evapotranspiration and returns to the atmosphere and gets redistributed throughout the west to fall where it may. In the end I think most water remains in the colorado system, some of it delayed in returning. While some is probably lost, but possibly lost to areas that could also really benefit from it. I certainly think our use of irrigation throughout the west has altered the hydrologic environment in ways we have not yet begun to realize. Some likely good, some likely bad.
 

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I'm pretty sure most of the irigation water in Colorado is on a one way trip. For example: The water sucked from the Dolores River is pumped over to the San Juan basin but I doubt you can find one stream of of irigation water flowing into the San Juan river. It just disappears into the ground or evaporates (ending up far from CO). Every bean or bail of alfafa is completely subsidized by the tax payers who paid for the McPhee Dam.
 

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It just disappears into the ground or evaporates (ending up far from CO).
You see it doesn't "disappear" into the ground. That's the problem, if it percs into the ground it recharges some aquifer, probably not the one it came from but one none the less. Most aquifers, are small perched, little systems that ultimately discharge back to some surface water, so eventually all that water that "disappeared" returns as groundwater discharge to surface water (i.e. springs). Some may get retained in depleted aquifers with no outlet, at any rate it's doing good. It might not be in the same local it was removed, but it is in the same larger basin.

As for evaporated water, it probably falls back to earth sooner than you think... but if not think about all that irrigation in California, if you're water is going to Kansas or beyond, you're getting California's.... or the Pacific's...
 

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You guys are kidding yourselves. When groundwater returning from irrigation enters a water body in the Colorado Basin, it generally carries large amounts of salts and heavy minerals that often do more harm to ecosystems and downstream farms than good.

The consumptive use from irrigation (evaporation and evapotranspiration) rarely ever returns to the basin as precipitation. The precipitation that we (and most contenental landmasses) get is mostly from oceanic air-masses. To my knowledge, increased precipitation due to irrigation is not even measurable within or outside of this basin. If water from irrigation just cycled back to the Rock Mountains as rain or snow and reentered the river then we would have ever increasing flows. It makes about as much sense as rain follows the plow.

The quotation from the op relies on figures that I think are messy, not unlike all of the "how much water does it take to produce a lb of ____" calculations. However, it is certainly the case that a major amount of Colorado River water is used to grow cattle feed for beef and dairy products and that that water is subsidized. It also seems clear to me that this may often not be that best use of said water.

To the op: Just eat your steak. You are but a consumer in a global marketplace. I personally don't believe that consumer conscience is an effective tool to bring about change. Even if every conscientious boater and environmentalist researches the factors contributing to the demise of the Colorado River and comes to the same conclusion--that they should limit beef consumption--it would not make a significant difference in the market for beef. Only a long term change in culture, public policy, or the economy can facilitate that change.

The first step is to get water managers and water law to acknowledge that leaving some water in rivers and streams for ecological health, recreation, and the intrinsic value of rivers is necessary and beneficial.
 
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