Column | The west is losing natural area at an alarming pace
“Disappearing Rivers,” a Center for American Progress-commissioned report, was introduced to a Washington, D.C. audience recently. The report was unsparing in its criticism of developers, public utilities, irrigators and the mining industry.
Looking at 11 western states, the CAP report addressed what’s built along waterways and how water is diverted and disrupted for power generation and dams, all with resultant pollution. Combined, our activities are threatening fish and wildlife with extinction and endangering local communities.
In the introduction to a website created to promote its study, CAP states that “every 2.5 minutes, the American West loses a football field worth of natural area to human development.” Human interference, the report continues, has altered nearly half of all Western rivers; more than 140,000 river miles, enough to circle the Earth nearly six times, have been affected.
Some states, the report found, have essentially no semblance of natural major rivers left. Utah is the prime example with more than 99 percent of its major rivers, including the Colorado River and the Green River, altered from their natural state.
Keynote speaker Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), introduced as the leading voice in the fight to protect public lands and to reform the nation’s antiquated 1872 Mining Law, reminded the audience that all Americans, and not just those who live in the West, have a stake in the fate of U.S. rivers.
CAP’s well-researched, alarming report left out development and environmental degradation’s biggest driver, overpopulation, a variable that could at least be stabilized if the federal government would pass commonsense immigration laws. According to the Pew Research Center, without immigration reductions, the U.S. population will in 2060 hit 441 million, a 35 percent increase from the current 327 million.
The environmental talking points that CAP advances are valid and frightening. Sadly, the organization and Sen. Udall don’t have the courage of their convictions. Instead of lobbying against and voting down legislation that would spawn huge population increases, CAP and Sen. Udall have an established history of advocating for and promoting growth.
In 2013, CAP supported the Gang of Eight amnesty bill that, because of chain migration, would have added more than 30 million to the permanent population. Udall was one of 68 senators who voted yea on S. 744. More recently, Udall co-sponsored Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017 for three million illegal immigrants that would trigger more chain migration. Princeton University calculates the chain migration multiplier as 3.5 relatives per each immigrant. Feinstein’s bill would eventually allow more than 10 million to migrate to the U.S.
Advocacy groups and high-powered U.S. senators can’t talk the talk if they’re not willing to walk the walk - in this instance, that means taking an unequivocal stance in favor of sensible immigration reforms that limit population growth.
Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day Founder who worked to preserve the St. Croix as the U.S.’s first official wild and scenic river, should be Congress’ role model. About pseudo-environmental groups that profess grave concern about vanishing national resources, but promote unsustainable immigration levels, Sen. Nelson said: “It’s phony to say ‘I’m for the environment but not for limiting immigration…’”
Skeptics should consider what environmental casualties 2060 will bring unless Congress passes meaningful reforms like Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s RAISE Act, legislation that would over a decade reduce legal immigration by 50 percent from its annual one million level. But as of today, the RAISE Act, introduced in February 2017, has but a single cosponsor.