Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Environment: Population, Immigration, and the Drying of the American Southwest

The looming water crisis in the American Southwest – and the role of immigration-driven population growth – is the topic of a paper published this month by the Center for Immigration Studies and authored by New Mexico journalist Kathleene Parker.

The paper, "Population, Immigration, and the Drying of the American Southwest," online at http://cis.org/southwest-water-population-growth, explores the link between the possibility of the potentially catastrophic economic and environmental water crisis and the fact that the Southwest is the fastest-growing region of the world's fourth-fastest-growing nation – a growth rate earlier cautioned against by various presidential commissions. It also looks at how that growth rate is driven by historically unprecedented immigration – legal and illegal – into the United States, the world's third-most-populous nation after China and India. Immigration is responsible for more than half of the population growth in the Southwest this past decade, and nearly all of the growth in the largest southwest state, California.

Such high immigration has happened absent discussion or acknowledgement of its impacts on population or limited resources, such as water. Parker presents evidence that indicates there is insufficient water for the region's current population, much less the larger future populations that will result if immigration continues at its present high rate.

The paper focuses on the drought- and growth-depleted Colorado River, including the high probability that the first-ever drought emergency could be declared on the river by early 2011 and the possibility that Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir and a depression-era wonder of engineering, could run dry in the not too distant future, with hydroelectric production threatened even sooner.

This would imperil all of the Southwest, Nevada and Las Vegas – which depends on Lake Mead for 90 percent of its water – in particular, but also cities like Albuquerque, which uses Colorado River water via the San Juan-Chama diversion project. Such relatively junior water rights could be at risk in the midst of a profound or long-term water shortage on the Colorado River.

The legal allocation of the Colorado in the 1920s was based on a combination of flawed river-flow data and a failure to understand that the Southwest, historically, is a far more arid region – based on recent scientific research – than first believed. That concern is based on normal weather patterns, with the possibility of even further depletion of the river, the Southwest's main source of water, should global warming happen.

Yet the water crisis unfolds in an atmosphere where, as pointed out by prestigious scientific groups like the National Academy of Sciences and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the extent of the crisis is not being sufficiently acknowledged or the advisability of the region's high growth rate considered by leaders. That high growth rate, in turn, is driven by U.S. immigration policies that do not consider the implications of a growth rate that, if trends hold, could mean one billion Americans by late this century.

Six states are dependent upon Colorado River to provide water to roughly 60 million people, and that number could double over the next four decades if immigration is not returned to far lower levels in the near future.

Parker, now of Rio Rancho, N.M., earlier worked as a correspondent for the Santa Fe New Mexican in the 1990s, covering Los Alamos, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Jemez Mountain region. She also freelanced for the Albuquerque Journal, covering the aftermath of the Cerro Grande fire and other topics, and she recently authored an article, for a major forestry magazine, on the Cerro Grande fire. She often teaches adult-education courses on population and environmental topics, has worked widely on water issues in Colorado and New Mexico, and frequently writes commentaries.

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent non-partisan research institution that examines the impact of immigration on the United States

Source: Center for Immigration Studies