Completely overlooked in the Senate’s S. 744 immigration deliberation, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, is the environmental impact of adding as many as 33 million new United States residents during the next decade. For the purpose of this blog, whether those newcomers are “provisional” permanent residents or ever become citizens is irrelevant.
All 33 million will become consumers not only of commercial goods but also of natural resources. Water, of which the U.S. already has too little, provides a striking example of how adding more people will deepen an already acute water shortage problem.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, much of the nation is suffering from “abnormal dryness” or “below average precipitation.”
Furthermore the Drought Monitor notes that in the region from the Rockies west to the Pacific Coast: “Some areas have received only 40 to 65 percent of normal amounts [of rain] since the start of the water year in October 2012.” Parts of California have “severe” drought; conditions in Arizona and Texas are described as either “extreme” or “exceptionally extreme.”
The water shortage is so problematic that reclaiming used wastewater for drinking is being promoted as an alternative to freshwater. According to Rhodes Trussell, president of Trussell Technologies in Pasadena, California:
"Expanding water reuse could significantly increase the nation's water resource, particularly in coastal communities."
So-called reclaimed water is already used in some industrial and agricultural applications. The first hurdle before drinking reclaimed water could be nationally approved would legislative. But then and understandably, the built in, psychological resistance to drinking reclaimed water would have to be overcome before the concept could have wide popular acceptance. [Reclaimed Wastewater Safe for Drinking but Still a Tough Sell, by Ker Than, National Geographic News, January 31, 2012]
But with 33 million more people, roughly the size of today’s Canada, Americans might have little choice about where their drinking water comes from.