More than half the water diverted from Central Valley rivers is used to irrigate cattle-feed crops, implicating beef and dairy as top drivers of recent fish declines.

Recent findings, published in Nature Sustainability in March, strengthen the environmental arguments for going vegan while rewriting the familiar narrative that almonds and other high-value tree crops are the top hogs of Central Valley water resources. The study’s authors, led by Brian Richter of Virginia-based Sustainable Waters, focused on the arid West and found that irrigated crops like alfalfa and hay, more than any others, are drying out rivers. The reduced flows are pushing dozens of fish species toward extinction. “We estimate that 60 fish species in the western US are at elevated risk of imperilment or extinction due to flow depletion, and that 53 (88%) of these are primarily due to irrigation of cattle-feed crops,” the scientists wrote in...
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Surface water diversions in California’s Central Valley can be estimated based on readily available climate data, say researchers—a boon to efforts to track groundwater use.

Valley groundwater pumping is calculated as the total water demand minus surface water deliveries. However, today’s water model relies on individually reported diversions across the entire valley, and compiling all these data is a slow process; by the time the numbers are crunched, assessments of groundwater use are already outdated. “It can take years,” says Jordan Goodrich of University of Waikato in New Zealand. “It’s one of the biggest problems we face in tracking the Central Valley water budget.” Overdrafting groundwater can cause subsidence, permanently reducing the storage capacity of aquifers as well as jeopardizing above-ground infrastructure that delivers water and controls flooding. In the March 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, Goodrich and colleagues at Scripps...
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