Immigration drives U.S. population growth, and this is true in western states, which are among some of the fastest growing areas in the United States. This growth is causing many strains on local resources and infrastructure, the most consequential being waters shortages that will become acute if current trends continue.
For the first time, a water shortage on the Colorado River has been declared by the Department of the Interior. The flow of the river is 20% less than it was when the Colorado River Compact was established in 1922, an agreement that allocated water to the mere 6 million scattered across the basin states at that time. Now, the volume capacity of dams and reservoirs are shrinking in size. Lake Mead is only 35% full, which is the least amount of water this reservoir has ever held. Lake Powell is in a similar situation as it sits at 68% empty, a record low.
All the while, many of the Western states continue to be among the fastest growing in the country, resulting in 40 million people relying on the Colorado River for water resources. Arizona has added 4.2 million to its population over the last 40 years. Colorado's population has grown by 15% in the last decade. In Nevada, Las Vegas alone experienced a tripling of its population since 1990. This occurred despite the knowledge of an impending drought.
NumbersUSA's Arizona Sprawl Study found that each household in the state uses approximately one-third of an acre-foot of water annually, which is equivalent to about half the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. More likely than not, it can be assumed that neighboring states with similar climates have comparable consumption patterns. The harsh reality is that a house of cards is being built across an arid desert, and it will all come tumbling down as the finite water source continues to disappear under the pressure of sustaining too many people.
The Census Bureau projects that by 2060, another 79 million will call the United States home. More people need places to live, work, utilities, and amenities - all of which require water. Americans are also among the highest emitters and consumers in the world, accelerating the environmental conditions that have reduced water flow. While the parched Southwest has water for now, as more people live in this region, Gary Wockner writes "the tradeoff is that urban landscapes get drier and more xeriscaped, water gets more expensive in cities, and a lot fewer farms will be growing food in the region."
Population growth cannot be circumvented as a key component of protecting this valuable resource. This must change if water sources like the Colorado River hope to continue flowing for future generations. With 90% of our population growth resulting from Congress's immigration policies, it is ultimately up to our elected officials to reform this broken system in a manner that will allow for our population to stabilize. The environment doesn't care about politics, but it clearly reacts to that of our politicians who play into the growth Ponzi scheme, which is evidenced by the West's water crisis that is poised to get even worse.
Amy Boylan is the Content Writer for NumbersUSA's Sustainability Initiative
Updated: Mon, Dec 6th 2021 @ 3:26pm EST