Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Connecting Population Growth and Water Supply: Strangers No Longer

August 2008

Citation: ELR 10596

Author: David J. Hayes

Dan Tarlock and Sarah Bates provide an excellent reprise of the West's historical resistance to the notion that water scarcity in the region should in any way inhibit growth. In Western Growth and Sustainable Water Use: If There Are No "Natural Limits," Should We Worry About Water Supplies? (No Natural Limits), they provide a powerful brief for the increased importance of linking population growth and water availability, noting recent attempts by some jurisdictions to move in that direction. But their article ends on a rather defeatist note as it concludes that "water availability will never be used as a tool to choke off growth," leading the authors to advocate the more modest hope that "cities facing water supply constraints may begin to alter their course and seek a more sustainable way to live in and with this landscape."

I am not as pessimistic as the authors. There are powerful new forces at work that are now bringing a new realism into the water-versus-growth debate in the West. Two forces, in particular, deserve special attention: (1) institutional changes in water management in the West; and (2) climate change. These two factors are fundamentally altering the traditionally limited connection between population growth and water supply. Indeed, while I agree with the authors'observations about the West's historical antipathy toward water-related constraints on growth, when it comes to this issue, the past does not predict the future. Over the next several years, many communities in the West will, for the first time, be forced into a candid dialogue about water constraints and its impact on their cities, towns, and rural communities. And they will no longer have the option of turning to traditional water barons for a bailout. This time, the hard questions will end up squarely on their laps.

David J. Hayes is former Deputy Secretary of the Interior and is currently Global Chair of the Environment in the Land and Resources Department at Latham & Watkins.

You must be a News & Analysis subscriber to download the full article.

You are not logged in. To access this content: