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For Immediate Release, October 19, 2009

Contact: Randy Serraglio, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 396-1143

Study Shows Water Shortages in Southeast United States
Are Due to Overpopulation, Likely to Be Repeated

TUCSON, Ariz.— A new study by Columbia University climate experts has determined that the drought that caused water shortages in the southeastern United States in 2007 and 2008 was not unprecedented in severity, but in fact a “typical event.” The researchers concluded that the resulting water shortages were actually due to explosive population growth in the region.

Between 1990 and 2007, the state of Georgia’s population leaped from 6.5 million to more than 9.5 million, an increase of nearly 50 percent over just 17 years. “Despite attempts to blame this water crisis on Mother Nature, intrusive regulations, or endangered species, this study clearly identifies the true culprit,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The culprit is us — a rapidly growing human population with unsustainable consumption habits.”

When Lake Lanier reservoir, the foundation of Atlanta’s water supply, shrank to historic lows in the midst of the drought, Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue led the charge to avoid the uncomfortable reality of unsustainable population growth. Calling the drought “manmade,” he sought to halt or severely restrict water releases from Lake Lanier reservoir, directly threatening numerous aquatic species downstream, including endangered mussels and sturgeon. The crisis triggered litigation and inflamed decades-old tensions into a full-blown water war involving the states of Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.

“The Columbia research shows that while the drought was a natural event, the water shortages were indeed caused by humans,” said Serraglio. “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.”

In July 2009, a federal judge ruled that Atlanta, where water demand is projected to double over the next 30 years, must find another source of water, and made the following observation: “Too often, state, local, and even national government actors do not consider the long-term consequences of their decisions. Local governments allow unchecked growth because it increases tax revenue, but these same governments do not sufficiently plan for the resources such unchecked growth will require. Nor do individual citizens consider frequently enough their consumption of our scarce resources, absent a crisis situation….”

“No one should be lulled into complacency by recent heavy rains in the region,” said Serraglio. “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.”

For more information on the Center’s work on overpopulation, go here.

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