Whether for hydration, farms, or faucets, the water quenching us comes from the same, fragile Floridian Aquifer. However, five decades of population growth has taken its toll. More and more Florida springs are beginning to look like flowing green stews of algae as a result of water consumption, row crop agriculture, development and livestock farming amongst others.
Each year, pollutants from livestock farms make their way into the aquifer and springs, creating algae blooms and depleting native aquatic plants. On top of this, U.S. agriculture is responsible for 80 percent of all water consumed. In fact, the food we eat makes up more than 2/3 of our total water footprint. With an average American who eats 167 pounds of meat a year - three times the global average - the sheer amount of water used and resulting pollutants needed can be mind-boggling.
According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the U.S. produced 23.69 billion pounds of beef at a retail value of $6.29 per pound in 2015. Americans ate an average of 53.9 pounds of beef per capita.
Every Friday, the Meat Processing Center at the University of Florida sells $5,000 worth of meat through their facilities. All the money raised goes back to purchasing cattle and providing them with their daily essentials - including water. Assistant Manager Tommy Estevez says the center's spring-calving cows need close to 20 to 24 gallons of water per day for themselves and another 5 to 10 gallons for their calves. He butchers anywhere from eight to 12 cows a day.
According to a 2005 U.S. Geological Survey study, livestock withdrawals accounted for 17.8 millions of water per day. A cow's daily water intake is influenced by environmental temperature, class of livestock, and weight. With this being said, lactating cows need twice as much water than non-lactating cows, requiring two gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight.
Saving the Floridian aquifer begins with pushing the Suwanee River Water Management District to conserve water and cut down on agricultural permits. These permits are often regarded as the culprit of our depleting springs due to the overuse of water and nitrate contamination. In fact, environmental impacts have long been noted in Manatee Springs as a result of these permits. Records show the spring's nitrate levels reaching 2 mg/L and surpassing the 0.35milligrams/L threshold set up by the DEP, according to the basin management action plan for the Suwanee River.
However, it is not too late to save our fragile springs. The aquifer can still be saved through costly and politically difficult solutions like taxing fertilizer and mandating reduction of water usage, or simply refraining from eating meat at least once a week can help make a difference. After all, small changes can go a long way to reduce one's water footprint.