The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) recently published a report on water resources in the United States. This is not a new topic for the anti-immigrant movement, which specializes in blaming resource depletion on individuals, or specific groups of people, rather than global systems of consumption, pollution and inequitable distribution.
This summer the United States endured record breaking droughts, while 2012 is set to be one of the hottest years on record. Rather than discuss climate change, FAIR thinks these severe weather events are caused by immigrants drinking too much water.
FAIR is primarily concerned with the notion that (immigrant fueled) population growth has single-handedly nullified any water conservation progress that has occurred in the U.S. in the last forty years. The report states: “population growth has cancelled out all the gains in conservation and is resulting in an overall rate of use that continues to put a severe strain on the nation’s water supply.”
While FAIR was busy crafting its extremely subjective rhetoric, the Pacific Institute (PacInst), an internationally renowned water policy think-tank and expert environmental organization, was using the same United States Geological Survey (USGS) data for its own reports. The two organizations were able to come to wildly different conclusions.
The FAIR report claims that between 1975 and 2005, per capita water use decreased by forty-two percent while overall water use decreased by only two percent. Why has this happened, FAIR asks? Thanks to population growth, America’s conservation efforts are useless. In fact, FAIR writes, “in order to achieve population stability, the U.S. must limit immigration.”
The PacInst report agrees that overall water use dropped only slightly in that time period, but emphasizes that there was indeed a drop even as the U.S. population grew. The PacInst analysis goes on to say that the “improvement in the efficiency of water use” witnessed up to 2005 (from when the latest data is available) is a continuation of “a trend that began in the late 1970s, and total freshwater use in the U.S. is now lower than it was in 1975.”
The PacInst report also makes almost no mention of population, besides the point that rapidly growing cities in the American Southwest are victims of physical and economic scarcity – that is, they were planned and built to be super-consuming metropolises regardless of who lives there.
Most importantly, the USGS data shows the way water use is distributed in the United States. Water used for “cooling power plants accounted for 41% of all freshwater withdrawals in 2005, making it the single largest water use. The second largest use is irrigation, which accounted for 37% of all freshwater withdrawals.” The PacInst concludes that our “total water use has declined. As a result, our per-person water use is almost 30% lower than it was 30 years ago.”
It is clear that individuals are not to blame for water shortages, nor is population growth responsible for a simple, causal relationship with resource consumption.