Immigration and Water Management

(ESPAÑOL) In this election year, immigration is one of the most hotly debated issues, including, surprisingly, water management. Although much of the debate revolves around the implications of immigration to national security and the cost of associated social programs, the impact to our water resources is generally overlooked.

Yet when viewed through the lens of water resource conservation and sustainability, existing levels of immigration pose enormous management challenges.

With a population of 320 million, the United States is the third-most populous nation in the world, trailing only China and India. With the world’s most liberal immigration laws and policies, the population of the United States has more than doubled since the 1960s.

Although water use across the nation varies considerably, the average American uses about 200 gallons of water per day and another 1,250 gallons per day for food production.

Annually, the impact of 1.25 million new residents on just the nation’s water resources is an increase of over 2 million acre-feet — more than the capacity of Lake McConaughy. That means the U.S. must make available the equivalent of a new Lake McConaughy each year to accommodate our new residents.

But as the population grows, it is inevitable that the use of our rivers must change to accommodate the increased production demands. These changes will invariably result in less water being available for irrigation and for fish and wildlife habitat.

And it is these changes that will set the stage for a different kind of legal and political conflict: how existing environmental laws can accommodate the use of limited water resources in the face of what is, seemingly, an endlessly growing demand.

Shortly after Congress dramatically expanded immigration in the 1960s, it enacted sweeping changes to laws concerning the management of natural resources. Among the key federal laws passed were the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

In the face of the projected population growth, it is unlikely these environmental laws will be able to function as envisioned by Congress. When demand for water and other natural resources is dictated by necessity, laws must change.

Already conflicts and litigation, spurred by increasing demand for water resources, are expanding across America and are amplified by climatic conditions.

While there are many differing viewpoints on immigration, each with merit, the implications of the status quo policies to our water and natural resources should not be ignored.