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The Salton Sea, Water Supplies, Population Growth, and the U.S. Congress

Stuart H. Hurlbert and Joan S. Dainer
Department of Biology and Center for Inland Waters, San Diego State University




Who will confront the arrogance of the radical right and political correctness of the radical left?

-- Scientists and engineers comfortably funded for their studies of environmental degradation and ways to achieve short-term fixes??

-- Environmentalists who will be quickly slandered as "racist" by corrupt leaders of their own organizations (and many others)??

-- NGOs who have sold their souls to political power and wealthy donors??

-- Workers in government agencies who understand much, but are subject to increasing levels of censorship and political pressure??

Rapid rates of population growth in the Salton Sea watershed and in adjacent regions wishing to siphon water out of it are the greatest medium- and long-term threats to a healthy Salton Sea or successor ecosystem. High immigration rates are the greatest controllable cause of this population growth and the accompanying environmental degradation. Of the projected 120-130 million increase in U.S. population by 2050, post-2000 immigrants and their descendants will account for two-thirds, given present trends. All those who care about the long-term health of the Salton Sea ecosystem must speak out forcefully about the need to curb U.S. population growth.

The Colorado River

Like many other rivers, streams, and aquifers in the Southwest, this has been sucked dry to supply unsunstainable yet unslowing U.S. population growth. Directly or indirectly it is the only significant source of water for the Salton Sea.

Almost all the water in the river comes from the Upper Basin states, north of Lee's Ferry. "Virgin flow" represents expected river flow if there were no upriver diversions by man. "The Remnant" is the flow left after the U.S. and Mexico have made all their diversions - normally less than 1% except in years of very heavy runoff. This is all that maintains the remnant wetland, riverine, and estuarine ecosystems of the lower delta and Gulf of California.

Rapid Population Growth + California 4.4 Plan
= Extreme Water Shortage
Fallowing of land; Conversion of agricultural land to residential; Pressure for 'reclamation' of Salton Sea inflows; Major shrinkage of Salton Sea or suboptimal restoration plans; Major loss of wildlife habitat and prime recreational area; Increased air pollution and respiratory disease.
These processes are already underway:


SDCWA: proposed water transfers from IID



MWDSC: has requested rights to SS inflows


CVWD: has requested rights to SS inflows


Mexico: Planning ways to use New R. flows


Current average inflows to Salton Sea



A straight line in the graph above indicates that over the last century the population growth rate (% increase per year) has been more or less constant, as is roughly the case for the U.S. as a whole (1.3% per year) or Riverside County (4.6% per yr).

Human populations, like those of other organisms, can never grow exponentially for very long. But unfortunately, human growth curves tend not to level off until very high levels of environmental degradation and societal dysfunction have developed, e.g. as in Los Angeles County.

When that happens, humans, like rodents, often respond with mass exoduses or out-migrations, e.g. from Los Angeles to other counties, and from California to other states. The 'bending over' of one of these curves thus often only signifies the likelihood of increasing problems elsewhere, not a solution of the underlying problem.

The Salton Sea watershed consists of the Imperial and Coachella valleys and uplands, plus the city of Mexicali in Baja California. Its population growth in recent decades reflects primarily population growth in Mexicali, now with over 800,000 people.

Outside those caused by water robber barons and the urban development sectors of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Tijuana, the environmental problems of the Salton Sea region will increasingly be "locally-grown" and binational.

Total fertility rate is the total number of children that a woman can be expected to have, on average, during her lifetime. During the past century in the United States this has fluctuated considerably. The numbers reached a low during the depths of the Great Depression, peaked during the post-World War II Baby Boom, and then fell to levels below the "replacement level" of 2.1. Reflecting large average family size for immigrants from Latin America, it has been rising back up in recent years.

Family size and immigration rates are the two major determinants of population growth rate. Family size is not currently problematic.

The number of legal immigrants admitted into the U.S. per year has been increasing roughly exponentially, by about 9% per year, since the 1930s and is now over 1 million per year.

Illegal immigration is increasing even more rapidly. The number of illegal immigrants entering and staying is not known with certainty. Current estimates range from 0.5 to 3 million per year.

Increased illegal immigration has recently been stimulated by promises from both President Bush and presidential candidate Kerry that they would attempt to award, directly or indirectly, amnesty to millions of illegal aliens in the U.S. 

President Fox of Mexico has been demanding that the U.S. do this also. Immigrants are the single most profitable export for the Mexican economy. The Mexican government provides instruction booklets for Mexicans on how to make it safely across the border and how to avoid detection in the U.S.

The Threat of Overpopulation and Overimmigration
Some Authoritative Opinion

It is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest. - U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, Barbara Jordan, Chair, 1994.

As long as there is a virtually unlimited supply of potential immigrants, the nation must make choices on how many to admit and who they are. - National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, 1997.

No sensible reason has ever been given for having more than 135 million people [in the United States]. - Paul & Anne Ehrlich, The Most Overpopulated Nation, 1992.

This is a sensitive issue, but reducing immigration levels is a necessary part of population stabilization and the drive toward sustainability. - President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development, Population and Consumption, 1996

Forging and maintaining a sustainable society is THE challenge for this and all generations to come. At this point in history, no nation has managed, either by design or accident, to evolve into a sustainable society. ... If our political system is unable to engage in an honest, forthright discussion of the major challenge of our time, is it any wonder there is widespread disillusionment with the system?. ... Yes, forging a sustainable society will involve all kinds of controversy. Achieving that goal will require that we move vigorously to stabilize our population. That of necessity requires that we address the immigration rate and the fertility rate, and that we significantly reduce both. - Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day


The U.S. population would be close to stabilization now if it had not been for immigration rates increasing exponentially over recent decades.


The U.S. Bureau of the Census publishes different projections for the resident population, including a "highest series," a "middle series," and a "lowest series." See above for projections made in 2000. The fact that there are different projections based upon different assumptions emphasizes the uncertainty involved, often reflected in underestimates.

The Bureau now estimates the current (2005) U.S. population at 295,000,000 (see star in figure above). Since 2000 we have squeezed into the U.S. another 14,000,000 people, roughly the equivalent of the entirety Los Angeles and Orange counties.

During the 1990s the population of every one of the 50 states increased, the first time in U.S. history this has ever happened.

(Full report on 2004 analysis)

Should votes that favor lower rates of population growth contribute to a congressman's environmental credentials?

We say, "Yes!"

Our analysis combines the scores (0 - 100 point scale) awarded congressmen by two organizations - the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and Americans for Better Immigration (ABI) - in order to obtain an Overall Environmental (OE) score for each congressman.

LCV and ABI scores are available on their respective websites and updated regularly.

LCV evaluates votes for their effects on standard environmental values, such as preservation of wildlife, habitat, air and water quality, and so on.

ABI evaluates votes for their effects on increasing or decreasing immigration rates, the major cause of high California and U.S. population growth rates.

The first chart below shows these scores (as of summer 2004) for California's 2 senators and 53 representatives. Note that not a single legislator is given a high score by both LCV and ABI.

In the chart below, an extreme negative correlation between LCV and ABI scores and the extreme polarization of the two parties are documented. Note the open circles representing JFK and GWB. The November 2004 election was won by an anti-environmental lone wolf as out of sync with California Republicans as he is with California Democrats. 

Calculating an Overall Environmental (OE) Score

This might be calculated as an unweighted average of the LCV and ABI scores. It is more logical, however, to calculate it as a weighted average, giving the ABI score twice the weight of the LCV score, i.e.

OE = (2·ABI + LCV) / 3

The reasons are simple. Population growth is the single greatest threat to the environment. Immigration is the major cause of California and U.S. population growth. It does not seem wise, ethical, or reasonable to ask American citizens, who have an average family size of 2.1 children, to have fewer children solely to accommodate higher immigration rates.


A Sierra Club Dissent
Increasingly this organization has become a paragon of the unwise, the unethical and the unreasonable.

An article titled "A tale of two immigrants" by Marilyn Snell in the November/December 2004 issue of Sierra suggests that Americans should decrease their mean family size of 2.1 children, roughly the replacement level. They should do this, she says, not in order to bring our population into better balance with our resources, but rather so that we can both move toward U.S. population stabilization and maintain the present high rates of immigration into United States.

By this logic it would be even better if Americans ceased having children altogether.

Sierra Editor-in-Chief Joan Hamilton confirms that Snell's position represents "the Sierra Club's point of view." (J. Hamilton in litt. to S. Hurlbert, 24 March 2005).

For many years the SC Executive Director Carl Pope, President Larry Fahn and certain other Club "leaders" have employed a variety of dirty tricks against Board candidates who favor the Club returning to advocacy of reducing both immigration and fertility rates in order to achieve U.S. population stabilization. Most egregious has been the use of vicious innuendo to try smear such candidates and their supporters as "racists," "bigots," "white supremacists."


This chart shows a slight negative correlation between OE and LCV scores. If you want to vote for candidates with the best overall environmental record you may be better off relying on the flip of a coin than on the LCV score.

Sierra Club endorsements and high LCV scores are awarded predominantly to congressmen or candidates whose votes favor, or would favor, high rates of U.S. population growth.


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