Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 August 2020
Perception of freshwater use varies between nations and has led to concerns of how to evaluate water use for sustainable food production. The water footprint of beef cattle (WFB) is an important metric to determine current levels of freshwater use and to set sustainability goals. However, current WFB publications provide broad WF values with inconsistent units preventing direct comparison of WFB models. The water footprint assessment (WFA) methodologies use static physio-enviro-managerial equations, rather than dynamic, which limits their ability to estimate cattle water use. This study aimed to advance current WFA methods for WFB estimation by formulating the WFA into a system dynamics methodology to adequately characterize the major phases of the beef cattle industry and provide a tool to identify high-leverage solutions for complex water use systems. Texas is one of the largest cattle producing areas in the United States, a significant water user. This geolocation is an ideal template for WFB estimation in other regions due to its diverse geography, management-cultures, climate and natural resources. The Texas Beef Water Footprint model comprised seven submodels (cattle population, growth, nutrition, forage, WFB, supply chain and regional water use; 1432 state variables). Calibration of our model replicated initial WFB values from an independent study by Chapagain and Hoekstra in 2003 (CH2003). This CH2003 v. Texas production scenarios evaluated model parameters and assumptions and estimated a 41–66% WFB variability. The current model provides an insightful tool to improve complex, unsustainable and inefficient water use systems.