Report Cites Population Rise in Drought-Stricken Areas

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The only precipitation California and the American Southwest are getting, it seems, is a downpour of new people.

Fifty-seven percent (25.8 million) of the country’s population growth from 2000 to 2014 took place in the most drought-stricken areas, according to recently released analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Brookings Institution.

Nine-and-a-half million of these people reside in counties experiencing “exceptional drought” levels – the most severe classification, characterized by “widespread crop and pasture losses and water shortages in reservoirs, streams and wells.”

The report notes that California has the most counties experiencing the largest population growth and worst drought levels, including Los Angeles County, Riverside County and San Diego Counties.

The West isn’t the only place experiencing dry conditions and exceptional population growth. Florida is tied with California for the most number of counties with large population increases – three of which are in the “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought” areas.

And although the Alliance for Water Efficiency declared California the best state for water conservation, its growing population only increases the need for more of the scarcely available resource.

Florida, where water scarcity is a newer problem, is beginning to address the issue. The Sunshine State’s steps toward conservation include the 2014 passage of the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative.

Environmental activists see a conflict between population growth and the climate change. But the large crop of 2016 presidential candidates isn’t likely to frame the issue that way—more people in a state mean more Electoral Votes—but the great California drought is beginning to surface as a topic on the campaign trail.

President Obama has been seen walking California’s parched agricultural fields with Gov. Jerry Brown, and offered support for the state’s mandatory water conservation measures. The drought, Brown declared, proves that “climate change is not a hoax.”

Among Republicans, no consensus has emerged. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has characterized climate change (but not California’s drought) as “a hoax.” Carly Fiorina, herself a Californian, has called the drought a “man-made” crisis caused by “overzealous liberal environmentalists.”

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, by contrast, co-chaired a 2007 Council on Foreign Relations task force on global warming, which produced a 142-page report titled “Confronting Climate Change: A Strategy for U.S. Foreign Policy.”

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