One of the hidden costs of industrial agriculture is its intensive water usage. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), about 80 percent of U.S. consumptive water (and more than 90 percent in many Western states) is used for agricultural purposes.
Only about 3 percent of the water on Earth is fresh water, which is dependent on rain for replenishment. Fresh water stored in aquifers, meanwhile, is being increasingly depleted, at a rate that cannot be naturally restored.
In some areas, pollution has left water largely undrinkable while industry (often the same ones responsible for the pollution) is draining underground aquifers at alarming rates. Irrigation is necessary to grow crops (including alfalfa hay used primarily for cattle feed) in arid regions of the U.S., but experts say it’s unsustainable.