Calaveras County is projected to grow at a rate of less than 1 percent through the year 2050, according to figures released last month as part of the county’s ongoing General Plan land use document update.
If that patterns holds true, this decade and the next three that follow will represent the slowest population increase in the county since the 1950s, when 0.4 percent growth took the county’s population from 9,902 in 1950 to 10,289 in 1960.
The county’s numbers exploded in the 1970s and 1980s, with annual growth of more than 4 percent leading to a doubling of population by 1980 when Calaveras stood at 20,710 residents. Another increase by half on top of that came by 1990 when the county boasted 31,998 residents.
Growth slowed to a 2.8 percent rate in the 1990s and just 1.1 percent the last decade, with the 2010 U.S. Census reporting 45,578 Calaveras dwellers, barely 5,000 more than a decade earlier. Tuolumne County’s population grew by 1.58 percent over the same period.
The California Department of Finance actually recorded a slight decline between 2010 and 2012, dropping the county to a 44,840 population as of Jan. 1, 2012. It produced population projection in five-year increments from 2015 through 2050 ranging between 0.7 and 0.9 percent growth. Those projections estimate 55,541 people in Calaveras by 2035, the year for which the General Plan is attempting to plan. By 2050, the number is expected to reach 63,926.
Land uses identified in the current General Plan could allow for a population of between 200,000 and 400,000, Planning Director Rebecca Willis told the Board of Supervisors in a November 2011 study session, while cautioning that infrastructure may not be able to keep up with that kind of growth.
For example, as the preliminary draft environmental impact report made available at the county’s website shortly before Christmas states, there are concerns about both quality and quantity of water available to serve future development in the county. The hydrology and water quality section of the document identifies pesticide runoff and mercury left over from decades-old mining operations as contaminants in surface water. It also notes overdrafting of groundwater in the Eastern San Joaquin Basin that extends into the western end of the county, where most new growth has occurred in the past two decades.