Overpopulation To Blame For Southeastern U.S. Water Shortages

Water shortages in the southeastern U.S. during the last two years were due to the skyrocketing population growth in the area, not just the drought, says a new study from Columbia University researchers. Some state’s populations, such as Georgia’s, jumped almost 50% in only 17 years, putting pressure on local water supplies and increasing the effect of drought in the region.

James Cridland / Flickr (Creative Commons)

While most people’s perception of droughts is limited to the arid regions of the western U.S., and not to the wetter regions such as the south, the combination of drought and overpopulation can overstress the local water supplies.

The climate experts studying the southeast’s drought in 2007 and 2008 say that it was not an exceptionally severe event, but rather a “typical event”, and that the overpopulation in the area was to blame for water shortages.

“Despite attempts to blame this water crisis on Mother Nature, intrusive regulations, or endangered species, this study clearly identifies the true culprit.” – Randy Serraglio, Center for Biological Diversity

The cornerstone of Atlanta’s domestic water supply, Lake Lanier, experienced historic lows during the drought, which spurred the governor of Georgia, Sonny Purdue, to look at the actuality that it was unsustainable population growth which was to blame for the region’s water woes. He then tried to severely restrict water releases from the reservoir, inadvertently endangering aquatic species downstream and setting off litigation involving Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. As it turns out, Governor Purdue was right about the source of the water shortages in his area – overpopulation.

“The Columbia research shows that while the drought was a natural event, the water shortages were indeed caused by humans. This is what happens when you have a dramatically increasing population relying on the same limited supply of water. Unfortunately, it is usually other species that pay the price for our inability to responsibly manage growth and consumption.” – Serraglio

This focus on the overpopulation issue isn’t necessarily due to increased family size by residents, as the growing population in the southeast is driven in large part by in-migration over the last few decades. An increased tax base and local spending may be welcomed by the governments and businesses, but they are going to have to work to decrease the average consumption of water as well as finding new sources for domestic water to deal with the problem.

“No one should be lulled into complacency by recent heavy rains in the region. When the natural cycle of drought returns – as it certainly will – water shortages will return with it, unless bold steps are taken to reduce consumption and control population growth.” – Serraglio

The study referenced above, Drought in the Southeastern United States: Causes, Variability over the Last Millennium, and the Potential for Future Hydroclimate Change, is available for download as a PDF. Find out more about overpopulation from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Written by Derek Markham

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