Erbe : Immigration And Drought

Erbe: Immigration and drought
By Bonnie Erbe/Syndicated Columnist
Posted Jul 16, 2009 @ 07:48 AM

Water shortages, which used to be limited to the dry western states, now plague just about the entire United States. Even regions that once seemed to have limitless supplies of water are facing predictions of shortages and imposing water restrictions on residents.

The Associated Press reported in October 2007 that, “An epic drought in Georgia threatens the water supply for millions. Florida doesn't have nearly enough water for its expected population boom. The Great Lakes are shrinking. Upstate New York's reservoirs have dropped to record lows.”

The worst draughts have always been in the West and those droughts continue, especially in the nation's largest state, California. Environmental News Service reported last week, “Drought-stricken California is receiving 98 percent of the Recovery Act funding announced nationally for water recycling projects, according to federal and state water officials…. Following a dry 2007 and 2008, California is now in its third year of a drought…These years also mark a period of unprecedented restrictions in State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect listed fish species such as the Delta smelt.”

Depletion of water supplies is a problem of global proportions, driven in part by climate change. But a worldwide human population boom is also driving climate change. Here in the United States, the doubling of the U.S. population during the past five decades – driven largely by massive legal and illegal immigration and the children of legal immigrants – is putting particular strains on the water supply. Why is no one discussing the relationship between these two phenomena?

As our water supply strains under the constantly increasing demands of population growth, ground water is being pumped faster than it is being replenished. Underground aquifers, the source of about 60 percent of the U.S.'s fresh water, are being depleted, and surface water in lakes and rivers is endangered by our increasing population demands.

A 2007 report by the National Academies of Science on Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic, stated in its preface that “…it became clear that a broad understanding of Colorado River water management issues is not possible unless both water supply and demand issues are adequately considered. Terms such as 'population growth' and 'water demand' did not appear in our statement of task. As we spoke with water experts from across the region at our meetings, however, they identified important linkages among hydrology and climate issues such as population growth and water demands, urban water management and conservation, riparian ecology, and water transfers. … Our report presents population growth data for much of the western United States that is served by Colorado River water. The cities in the region are collectively the fastest growing in the nation. Of further concern is that this growth seems to be occurring with little regard to long-term availability of future water supplies.”

So the information is out there. But politicians won't touch it. Why? Referring to immigration is not just a hot potato, it's a nuclear bomb. If either party is seen as anti-immigrant, millions of votes could be lost.

I am going to restate for the record, as I do whenever I write on this difficult topic, that individual immigrants are not the problem. I am the proud granddaughter of Russian and Cuban immigrants. Today's immigrants are for the most part hard-working, good people. But it's the huge influx of people that is stressing our environment to the point of breaking. Most of the public, most environmental groups and certainly most politicians want to ignore the problem. But water shortages cannot be ignored for much longer. Water is the new oil. And desalinization plants, usage of snowmelt and recycling notwithstanding, we are headed to a certain future where there will not be enough to go around.

Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail