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Irrigated Cattle Feed Contributing to Water Shortages in Colorado River Basin

The FEWSION project, a multi-institutional team of researchers led by Northern Arizona University, published a study in Nature Sustainability, illustrating that fallowing irrigated cropland in the Colorado River Basin could alleviate regional water shortages. The study found that irrigated crop production accounts for 86% of all water consumed in the western United States, and by far the largest portion of this goes to produce cattle-feed crops such as alfalfa and grass hay. Specifically, says study Principal Investigator Ben Ruddell, “In the Colorado River basin, that cattle feed water use is nearly three times greater than all the water used for urban, industrial, and electrical power purposes combined.” He continues, “I can hardly believe that such a large fraction of our western water problems is linked to irrigation of cattle feed, or that such a large fraction of our western water problems could be fixed with a single prescription—fallowing. It’s rare that science clearly finds a ‘silver bullet’ that solves such a big problem so well, and so affordably,” Ruddell said.