I can't seem to find consistent numbers on just how much water it takes to raise a pound of beef. It's been puzzling me why there is such a huge range from apparently reliable sources, but apparently it's a relatively complex matter that is of course charged with emotion (we love our beef!) and difficult to extricate from the politics of commerce and the agricultural system.
Kai Olson-Sawyer, the author of this article (where I got the above graphic) on how much water it takes to raise beef for EcoCentric, "a blog about food, water and energy", is similarly perplexed and the article if you stick with it takes a good look at why it's so difficult to arrive at a consensus.
One thing's for sure, whatever the number is it's too high.
Figures I've seen for water consumed in raising beef range from 52.8 gallons for a quarter-pounder via NPR (exrapolate to 211.2 gallons for 1 pound) to 2,000 gallons per pound according to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales:
"In a country like the United States, a fifth of all your grain production is dependent upon irrigation. For every pound of beef produced in the industrial system, it takes two thousand gallons of water. That is a lot of water and there is plenty of evidence that the Earth cannot keep up with the demand."
The bottom line of Olson-Sawyer's article? Listen to the Prince:
"Regarding the Prince and his 2,000-gallon figure—His Royal Highness appears to be fairly close to the WFN’s [The Water Footprint Network's] mark. And to his larger point of beef’s stampede for resources – water, energy, grain – he couldn’t be more correct: Eating the amount of beef that American’s do, at over 60 pounds annually, is exhausting our resources and is unsustainable, especially when considering growing consumption patterns around the world."