California Drought Signals Limits on Growth

Published on February 2nd, 2014

California now faces what Gov. Jerry Brown describes as perhaps the state’s worst drought since record-keeping began a century ago. Water shortages threaten household use and agriculture. To meet this challenge, Brown has asked residents to cut water consumption by 20 percent. Mandatory conservation may be ahead.

The impact of the drought could be substantial on farming in the state’s highly productive San Joaquin Valley. If present conditions continue there, growers may have to forego planting between 600,000 and 700,000 acres.

Many people are suggesting conservation measures to deal with the crisis. These can be helpful, but there are limits on what conservation can accomplish. The fact of the matter is that much of California (and other southwestern states) is naturally arid. Elaborate water projects tend to hide this reality, but it is a reality nonetheless.

And the future may offer even more drought if proponents of the climate change theory are correct. Meanwhile, the ongoing growth of population in California and nearby states places ever-growing demands on existing water supplies.

During California’s 1977 drought, at that time considered the worst in modern times, the state’s population was 21 million. Today it’s 38 million. This increase “will [magnify] on the human and economic scale” the impact of that previous drought, noted Jason Peltier, general manager of the Westlands Water District, which provides irrigation water to the San Joaquin Valley.

Still the population of California keeps climbing, not as fast as before, but still at a substantial rate. At the current projection, California’s population will reach 50 million in 2049 – just 35 years from now.

Immigration will account for a significant share of this projected growth. Unfortunately, Congress is now considering legislation that would substantially increase immigration. That legislation passed by the Senate, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would bring a net increase of almost 10 million more immigrants nationally than the total currently projected for the next ten years.

Meanwhile, ironically, Gov. Brown who warns of water shortages also has endorsed legislation that encourages the estimated 2.5 million illegal aliens living in the state to remain – and consume water just like everyone else.

We may not be able to control climate change very much, but we can curtail population growth by limiting immigration. One reason for reluctance to do so is our national myth that growth can be limitless. In truth, it isn’t. If we don’t impose reasonable limits by choice, nature will do it for us in most unpleasant ways.

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