Since 1982, Arizona developers have paved 1.1 million acres of natural habitat and farmland — an area more than triple the size of Phoenix — to clear way for the state’s rapidly growing population. That’s among the key findings of a new study on Arizona’s environment published today by NumbersUSA.
“Arizona has experienced more urban sprawl than any state except Nevada,” said Leon Kolankiewicz, an environmental planner and co-author of the study. “As of 2017, there were almost 3,300 square miles of developed land in Arizona, a 114 percent increase since 1982. This sprawl — which is overwhelmingly driven by rapid population growth, rather than increases in per-capita resource consumption — is fragmenting habitats, exhausting water supplies, and exacerbating climate change.”
The study, titled “Population Growth and the Diminishing Natural State of Arizona,” examines how the state’s soaring population — which jumped from 2.9 million people in 1982 to over 7 million in 2017, a 144 percent increase — has strained everything from aquifers to Arizona’s unique desert biome.
“If we’re serious about protecting wildlife, conserving scarce water resources, and preserving open spaces for future generations, we must have a serious conversation about population growth,” said Eric Ruark, director of research at NumbersUSA and a co-author of the study. “Overdevelopment is a problem not just in Arizona but nationwide.”
The study finds that Arizona has experienced:
- A 27 percent decrease in cropland — from 1.2 million acres in 1982 to 906,000 in 2015.
- Depleted aquifers and reservoirs due to growing demand, reduced water flows in the Colorado River, and drier weather.
- The endangerment and near-extinction of several species, including the Colorado pikeminnow, Yuma clapper rail, and ocelot.
Nationwide, developers have paved over 43 million acres of natural land since 1982 — an area the size of Florida — to accommodate our growing population.
“Formerly pristine open spaces are now strip malls, housing developments, and paved roadways,” said Kolankiewicz. “Unchecked growth is already harming Arizona’s environment — and could have dire consequences unless state and federal leaders take action.”