By Joe Guzzardi
April 3, 2015
California Governor Jerry Brown has finally acted meaningfully to force residential water users to cut back consumption by 25 percent. Brown’s order was the first of its kind in California history. For months, Brown delayed, hoping that December and February storms as well as pleas for voluntary cut backs would suffice. But neither enough rain fell nor enough conservation was evident to forestall Brown’s mandatory action. California snow pack is at record low levels.
Wisely, Brown maximized the publicity surrounding his announcement, thus underlining California’s challenges. Brown issued his executive order requiring the cuts on bone dry Echo Summit, normally five feet deep in snow during April. A phalanx of reporters were present, and press conference images were transmitted across the world.
Californians wonder what will come next, especially as the state’s population pushes unforgivingly higher. California Department of Finance demographers project that by 2050 the state will have 60 million residents, dramatically altering every resident’s lifestyle. Southern California will show the highest growth rates. Los Angeles County will increase by 3.5 million people while neighboring Riverside County will follow closely, adding almost 3.2 million people. That’s way too many people for much too little water.
Over the next three and a half decades, Californians are sure to endure more state-imposed restrictions to fend off more acute shortages, huge economic loses, wildfire threats, higher electricity rates, lower crops yields, and fewer farmers as many walk away from insurmountable challenges.
Supply and demand (population) must be brought back into balance. The options for more supply are severely limited. Desalination plants and recycled water projects are expensive as well as time consuming. Something can be done about demand—what’s needed is to limit future immigration through common sense policies.
But common sense is a term that rarely applies to immigration. Despite the deepening drought, California’s border with Mexico is today a hotbed of activity. San Ysidro just south of San Diego is the world’s busiest port of entry. Thousands come every day, and thousands more enter through San Diego, illegal immigration’s historic epicenter, and Imperial counties. In fiscal year 2014, officers inspected more than 28 million vehicles and 18 million pedestrians entering Southern California. Assume an average of two persons per vehicle, and the total of new California entrants last year hit 64 million.
The whereabouts of many are unknown. Some go to school and return home; others disperse throughout California, still others keep going to different out of state destinations. But those who remain in California will be a water consumers—drinking, bathing, cleaning, and flushing. More immigration means higher population and less water, an indisputable argument but one which Brown won’t concede and which for more than 20 years journalists have refused to even acknowledge.
In his 1997 study, “How and Why Journalists Avoid the Population-Environment Connection,” University of Southwestern Louisiana’s T. Michael Maher found that “journalists are aware of the controversial nature of the population issue, and prefer to avoid it if possible.” Two decades of journalistic neglect of a crucial storyline is a sorry history. But it’s not too late for professional reporters to write more enlightened stories so that their readers become aware of the increasingly dangerous link between immigration and California’s depleted water resources.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]