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Immigration policy, like a river, requires stewardship

author Published by Jeremy Beck

Water and immigration levels are important measures of the health and sustainability of our nation. Both must be managed with care.

September 24th was World Rivers Day. Rivers and their freshwater ecosystems are fundamental to thriving civilizations. The U.S. withdraws about 400 billion gallons of water (all sources) a day for all of our uses. America’s freshwater is abundant but not infinite, and its value as a resource should be considered as we decide how big of a country we want to be.

America’s total water use has actually decreased in recent decades, even as the U.S. grew by tens of millions of people. A stable population would allow still more water to remain in natural streams, rivers, and lakes — where it furnishes ecological benefits to habitat, wildlife, and society.

Water levels have also decreased. Roughly 40 percent of wells have hit all-time lows since 2010. The Colorado River’s flow decreased by an estimated 20 percent over the past century. Lower water levels and indefinite population growth do not mix.

“More people demand more water, but also each person demands more water as they get wealthier,” the director of Freshwater Initiatives at the World Research Institute tells The Washington Post.

The World Resources Institute puts The United States in the Medium-High category of water stress. The Post singles out Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, California and Idaho as states that are “using more water than they receive each year.”

Rivers are threatened and degraded as our expanding populations draw on them for irrigation and drinking water, and use them for waste disposal of industrial process waters, farmland runoff, sewage, and urban stormwater. In addition, growth and development can impair the beneficial functions of rivers as a result of man-made alterations —

  • Loss of baseflow — groundwater levels can fall due to excessive water supply withdrawals, wetlands filling, creating extensive areas of impervious surfaces (e.g., pavement and rooftops) which, during storms, can also deliver a rush of runoff to rivers that causes riverbank erosion and flooding;
  • Riparian development — when floodplains, which slow runoff and store floodwaters, are cleared for housing or industrial plants the natural channel of a river is disrupted and displaced, and inevitably leads to catastrophic flooding events;
  • Water supply development — the most extreme river alteration is diversion and damming to create and/or enhance water supplies, which typically devastates the existing aquatic ecosystem.

As part of its series on disappearing water, The New York Times describes a landscape where “counties and cities are being forced to hunt for new sources of water, setting up clashes between neighboring communities.”

One of those clashes is in Colorado, where the city of Thornton wants to divert water from the Cache la Poudre River to accommodate housing development for up to 54,000 additional residents. The Times didn’t survey Coloradans, but NumbersUSA did, and their responses may surprise some people.

A mere 7 percent said they wanted to continue to grow rapidly, and three out of four preferred to keep water in rivers rather than divert it to accommodate additional people moving into the state.

Which brings us back to the question: “How big do we want to be?”

The iconic Rio Grande is one of the longest rivers in North America – running from the San Juan Mountains in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico (in most years) – but its most well-known section runs along the U.S.-Mexico border. The river runs towards the south while the migrants run towards the north. Water and illegal immigration levels are important measures of the health and sustainability of our nation. Both must be managed with care.

Congress established limits on immigration that have leveled off annual green cards about just over one million per year — four times the historical average. The level of legal immigration Congress has established is without precedent. Immigration policy is the primary factor in all long-term U.S. population growth. But the legal immigration system established by Congress, unsustainable as it is, has been surpassed by the illegal immigration system.

Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reports a record 304,162 nationwide illegal immigration encounters in August – the equivalent of a Newark, NJ or Saint Paul, MN attempting to enter illegally – breaking the previous record set just last December. every month – and that does not count so-called “gotaways” who evade detection.

Attempts to slow illegal immigration by creating pathways outside of the system established by Congress have succeeded only in admitting more people into the United States, each of whom require significant resources to remain, including water.

How big do we want to be?

JEREMY BECK is a V.P., Deputy Director for NumbersUSA

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