Melanie Oubre's picture


  by  Melanie Oubre

The Census Bureau came out with its predictions on U.S. population this month.  In response, Federal Departments including the Departments of Interior and Agriculture released reports on how this growth will affect our country’s natural resources including open space and water supply.  The U.S. will add over 100 million people by 2050 due to mass immigration policies.   Also to be expected by 2050 are sever water shortages and major losses of forests and open space.  When will America realize that population stabilization is the answer to our sustainability dilemma?

Projected Numbers

Last week, the Census Bureau released its annual report detailing population growth in America.  It estimated that the U.S. population grew by 2.3 million people, or .75 percent from July 2011 to July of 2012 bringing our population to 313.9 million people.  This growth can be attributed almost entirely to our immigration policies.  Immigration levels were up from the previous few years but still not as high as the levels in the early 2000’s.  

Fertility rates for American women continue to decline.  But, the report shows that 1 million immigrants “settled” within the United States, causing the uptick in growth from the past few years.    

A new immigration handbook from the George W. Bush Institute found that in terms of absolute numbers, the foreign-born population is the highest it has ever been.  Today, there are 40.4 million foreign-born people living in the U.S.  They make up 13 percent of our population, nearing the 1910 peak of 14.7 percent. 

The Center for Immigration Studies used the Census Bureau’s report to look at how immigration alone will affect our population in the future.  
  • "If immigration continues as the Census Bureau expects, the nation's population will increase from 309 million in 2010 to 436 million in 2050 — a 127 million (41 percent) increase."
  • "The Census Bureau assumes net immigration (legal and illegal) by 2050 will total 68 million. These future immigrants plus their descendants will add 96 million residents to the U.S. population, accounting for three-fourths of future population growth." 
  • "Even if immigration is half what the Census Bureau expects, the population will still grow 79 million by 2050, with immigration accounting for 61 percent of population growth."
  • "Without any immigration, the U.S. population will increase by 31 million by 2050." 
"Though projections past 2050 are much more speculative, if the level of immigration the Census Bureau foresees in 2050 were to continue after that date, the U.S. population would reach 618 million by 2100 — double the 2010 population."

  • "The immigrant (legal and illegal) share of the population will reach one in six U.S. residents by 2030, a new record, and nearly one in five residents by 2050."
It is clear that immigration policies will almost solely going to fuel our growth.  Immigration will add 96 million people to our population in the next 37 years, accounting for three-fourths of future population growth.

These findings are assuming that no policies regarding immigration will be changed in Congress.  Right now, Congress issues approximately 1.3 million visas to new immigrants each year. 

Where the Growth is Happening

Twenty-six states grew faster this year compared to last year.  Of these 26, 19 are in the South and West regions. 

North Dakota grew faster than any other state in the country, climbing 2.2 percent.  The District of Columbia was the second-fastest growing followed by Texas, Wyoming and Utah.  Only two states lost population, Rhode Island and Vermont. 

California's population rose at a slightly higher rate of 0.95%. Even as California lost more residents to other states, it had a net gain of 357,500 people, thanks to immigration and the natural increase — more births than deaths.

With 38 million residents as of July 1, California remains the most populous state in the nation. It had about 12 million more people than No. 2 Texas, which once again saw the biggest numerical increase in population of all states.

The so-called “Sun Belt” states that had seen the fastest population growth before the recession are beginning to see growth once again.  These are states such as Nevada, Arizona and Florida. 

West and South: Fastest Growth and Fastest Resource Depeletion

The Department of the Interior released a report after the census numbers came out on the future of the Colorado River that is quite shocking.  Today, the Colorado River supplies water to 40 million Americans in the West, including most of the fastest growing states.  Within a mere 50 years, the study says, the fabled Colorado that powerfully forged so much of the American West will be unable to meet the needs of a burgeoning human population.  

Forty million people living in cities and rural parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming depend on the Colorado River for drinking water, crop irrigation, ranching, tourism, energy and business.  The report finds that we will see a decrease in supply and an increase in demand, paving the way for a serious water shortage.   Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made one of the more impressive understatements of the year: "We are in a troubling trajectory in the Colorado River basin."

The Department of Interior wasn’t the only one to come out with a report based on projected population growth and how it will affect our way of life.  A US Forest Service report released in 2012 concluded that U.S. population growth "could profoundly impact natural resources, including water supplies, nationwide during the next 50 years."

The report recognizes that the biggest problems we will be facing, when it comes to resource and open space depletion, will happen in the South and the West.  Here are some predictions from the report: 
  • "A growing population is projected to lead both to increased demands for a wide array of goods and ecosystem services from forests and rangelands and to shifts in land uses as public values for certain goods and services change."
  • "The combination of increasing water demand and declining water yields leads to an increase in vulnerability of the water supply to shortage in large portions of the United States, especially in the larger Southwest and Great Plains."
  • "Increasing water demands are likely to increase competition between water uses. The water projections indicate that the United States is on a pathway to unsustainable levels of water use in several regions across a range of RPA scenarios."
  • "The limited amount of public land in the East, where most forest land is privately owned, will likely put greater stress on outdoor recreation opportunities than will be experienced in the West. Pressures are likely to be greatest on public lands near large and growing population centers."
  • "Total urban and developed land area is projected to increase between 39 and 69 million acres between 2010 and 2060, an increase of 41 to 77 percent."
  • "Forest land losses are projected to range from 16 to 34 million acres in the conterminous United States."
  • "The water supply system of much of the United States west of the Mississippi River is vulnerable under current hydroclimatic and socioeconomic conditions."
  • "The outlook for recreation resources is generally of declining opportunities per person. The public land base is not expected to expand significantly. Therefore, an increasing population will result in decreasing per-person opportunities for recreation across most of the United States."


The problems are obvious.  Our government knows what we are facing, and many are willing to admit that the problem stems from population growth.  But instead of having a serious discussion on our unsustainable growth due to immigration policies, some are proposing things such as “towing icebergs South to help thirsty cities such as Las Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Denver. “ Yes, you read that right, towing icebergs.  

Another solution that has been proposed is Americans need to conserve more and use less water.  But the truth is, we can conserve as much as possible but as long as our population is rapidly growing, conservation will only be one part of the answer.   Studies have shown that Americans have gotten better at conserving, and in general are more environmentally aware.  Even with these cultural improvements, the future of our land and resources is very bleak. 

Returning back to traditional immigration levels of 250 thousand people a year would be the simplest and most effective way to decrease our demand for resources in the future.   Our population would still grow, even if all immigration were to end.  But cutting down the numbers would help us reach population stabilization and pave the way for a sustainable nation, instead of the uncertain, quite worrisome future we are faced with today. 
immigration reform

Updated: Thu, Jan 3rd 2013 @ 11:43am EST

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