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Nevada’s explosive population growth fuels urban sprawl

author Published by Henry Barbaro

Nevada made the news recently, but not in a good way. Newsweek reported (5/1/24) that Nevadans are fed up with people moving into the Sagebrush State. In a new poll taken by Rasmussen Reports and NumbersUSA, 82% of Nevada’s residents said they wanted the population to grow much more slowly (40%) or not at all (42%). This dissatisfaction comes from Nevada’s explosive population growth – more than tripling over the past 40 years from 882,000 in 1982 to 3,195,000 in 2023. The biggest contributor to this growth has been the migration of native-born and foreign-born residents from other states, particularly ones with higher foreign immigration, population growth, congestion, and cost of living — states like California, Texas, and Arizona.

According to a NumbersUSA report from last month (May 2024), no state lost natural habitat and farmland at a faster rate than Nevada during the 35-year period covered by available federal data (1982-2017). The 153% increase in urban sprawl (nearly 500 square miles of newly developed land) was more than twice as fast as the U.S. average of 61%.

Much of the concern over Nevada’s population growth relates to the State’s limited water supply, most of which comes from the Colorado River. Nevada is America’s driest and most drought-prone state, and its growing population is vying for what little water can be withdrawn from the diminishing Colorado River.

Wilderness and wildlife habitat also is a big concern. For example, despite being a mostly arid and semi-arid state, Nevada is the home of 67 aquatic species found nowhere else in the world. Nevada also has 38 threatened/endangered species, with more endangered types of fish than any other state.

Historically, Nevada’s wildlife and their habitats were relatively unthreatened by human populations which did not grow to large numbers because of the arid conditions – extreme heat and lack of water. However, with the advent of air conditioning and water supply engineering (e.g., dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, pumps, and canals) millions of newcomers were able to settle into Nevada. Unfortunately, this resource exploitation now is compelling water managers to consider diverting water from the State’s farmlands, further over-pumping aquifers, and/or draining rivers beyond their ability to sustain the wildlife that depend on them.

Listen: Live & Local Now! (Leon Kolankiewicz) (8:55-20:26)


In addition to dwindling water supplies and wildlife habitat, the state’s rapidly-growing population continues is facing other growth-related problems such as traffic congestion, urban sprawl, increased housing densities and less affordability, longer wait times for healthcare, crumbling and inadequate infrastructure, and less access to open space. As cited above, an overwhelming majority of Nevadans desire slower population growth to maintain the state’s unique culture, protect its natural resources, and preserve the residents’ quality of life.

Today’s unprecedented rate of immigration has become the primary reason behind population pressures throughout America, with federal immigration policies being responsible for about 90% of the nation’s future population growth. Until federal officials lower the numerical level of immigration, even the best local plans and political commitment will not be able to stop the loss of Nevada farmland, open space and biodiversity resulting from population growth and urban sprawl.

See also: Our Studies; Conservation Challenges; Sustainability Initiative.

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