Rob Harding's picture

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  by  Rob Harding

A recent Arizona Daily Star op-ed highlighted key shortfalls of Arizona's Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), noting that the DCP fails in having "limited provisions for actually conserving water" and ignoring "conservation of Arizona's rivers, streams, and springs, even in the face of warming and drying trends."

The op-ed's author directs blame for these noteworthy omissions by claiming that "most environmental interests were intentionally excluded from DCP negotiations." One question for the author is, why was Arizona's growing population of people omitted from his commentary?

To be fair, the author hinted at the population factor in Arizona by calling attention to "the root cause of the [Santa Cruz] river's illness: continued groundwater pumping that robs the river of its natural base flow" as well as strains on the San Pedro River that is "threatened by unsustainable groundwater pumping from nearby cities such as Sierra Vista."

But the link between freshwater demand and human population size should be made clear for readers and openly discussed. It is human activity, including the number of consumers, that is ultimately driving unsustainable water use. Per capita water use cannot be expected to approach zero no matter how efficient we are, so the number of consumers matters. (I think it's useful to think of this issue as a "people longage" because it directly challenges the more commonly used phrase "water shortage." Water doesn't have any agency, people do.)

With the Census Bureau projecting that by 2060 the total U.S. population will reach 404 million (up from 328 million now), how much of this growth and its attendant water demands can Arizona cope with? Will more people in Arizona -- the fourth-fastest growing U.S. state in terms of population -- make it more or less feasible to conserve, protect and restore the state's rivers?

Nearly all population growth in the U.S. is in the hands of federal policy makers because nearly all population growth is related to federal immigration policies. Until the numerical level of national immigration is reduced, even the best local plans and political commitment will be unable to avoid the risk of intensifying overuse of waterways like Arizona's rivers as the country's population continues to expand.

ROB HARDING is the NumbersUSA Sustainability Communications Manager

Updated: Thu, Mar 7th 2019 @ 12:10pm EST

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