For decades, federal, state and municipal governments have ignored the consequences of population growth. Despite California’s ongoing battle against too little water, the Club for Growth and Wall Street want more, more, more.
The 2012 birth rate drop triggered a series of near-panic mainstream media stories that a demographic zero hour might be looming. Reporters speculated that too few children would eventually mean fewer workers, less productivity and too many retirees.
That gloomy prediction is baseless speculation. What we know for sure is that, according to the Census Bureau, last year California’s population added 332,000 residents, which brought the state total to 38.2 million. Higher population created a demand for more natural resources, including, most importantly, water.
California’s record-breaking drought highlights the extent to which a water crisis could paralyze the state. Of note is that 2013 was about 20 percent drier than any previous year in California’s history. Gov. Jerry Brown has officially declared California in drought emergency mode.
Brown’s declaration allows water supply agencies to ban lawn watering and washing cars. During the last sustained drought in 1976-77, Californians prudently saved shower water to plant gardens and wash down their sidewalks.
But the larger problem remains. The vitally important agriculture industry uses about 80 percent of California’s water. The drought could lead to fallowing of farmland, lower yields and more unemployment, which translates to higher consumer prices.
Meteorologists predict that the drought will continue because of an unprecedented, 13-month-long, offshore high pressure ridge along the West Coast which is blocking the typical winter storms. Brian Fuchs, an analyst from the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., says existing conditions “create a perfect environment” for more dry weather.
Even as the state gropes for solutions, Brown may be playing water politics. Columnist Dan Walters noted that since Brown declared an emergency, he now “owns” the drought politically. While his reelection is certain, the drought complicates Brown’s agenda to construct twin tunnels in the Delta to carry Sacramento River water to the California Aqueduct’s head, a project Pat Brown began as when he was governor five decades ago.
But although legislators have been working on water bond issue that would finance some portion of the tunnels, Brown appears reluctant to have it on his reelection ballot. Brown prefers to campaign as a debt reduction champion instead of a sponsor of more debt.
Nothing can be done about high pressure systems. Sacramento politics is beyond anyone’s control. But there’s much that Californians can do to stabilize its population. The Guttmacher Institute, winner of the Population Center grant from the National Institutes of Health, reported that in California, of the 8.4 million women of reproductive age (aged 13 to 44), 5 million needed contraceptive services and supplies. From those 5 million, 600,000 require publicly supported services because they are sexually active teenagers, and 2 million because they have incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
The only lasting solution to California’s natural resources shortages is fewer people to consume them. Those fewer people must appreciate how scarce and irreplaceable natural resources are.
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.