Colorado’s population has surged by 2.5 million people in the past four decades — an 83% jump. And it’s on track to increase another 1.8 million by 2050. Many Coloradans are none too happy about this rapid growth.
In fact, a new poll shows that, by overwhelming margins, Coloradans want to dramatically slow, or even reverse, these trends. They fear — correctly — that continued population growth will inevitably cause the urban sprawl that despoils their open spaces and lowers their quality of life.
The Centennial State has experienced the 7th-fastest population growth rate in the nation since 1982. More recently, between 2010 and 2020, the state population ballooned by 15% — almost double the national growth rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And about 53% of the growth has occurred due to migration from other states and countries.
Most of these newcomers have flocked to Colorado’s largest cities — as anyone who tried buying a home in Denver, Colorado Springs, or Boulder recently can attest. Between 2010 and 2020, the counties surrounding Denver took in at least 85% of new Colorado residents, according to State Demographer Elizabeth Garner. Broomfield County, just northwest of Denver proper, increased its population 33%, with 74,000 people crammed into 34 square miles.
As recent arrivals poured into urban centers and their respective suburbs, developers bulldozed fields and forests to construct new houses, office parks, malls, roads, and all the other facets of civilization. Between 1982 and 2017, Colorado sacrificed 1,038 square miles of formerly rural land to urban sprawl caused by population growth — an area about three times the size of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder combined.
Coloradans broadly dislike this sprawl. In fact, 61% of voters think the state has already developed too much, according to a new poll conducted by Rasmussen and sponsored by NumbersUSA. The same percentage feel that this growth has made Colorado a worse place to live.
And voters overwhelmingly believe it’s essential to limit future growth. Fully 95% feel that preserving Colorado’s remaining open spaces is “very important” or “somewhat important.” Meanwhile, 81% fear traffic will become much worse if Colorado grows by an additional 1.8 million people by 2050, as currently forecast.
The influx of new residents isn’t merely snarling traffic, clogging ski slopes, or driving up housing and rental prices. It’s also straining Colorado’s natural resources.
Already, 40 million Americans across seven states are relying on the overtaxed Colorado River for drinking, bathing, and irrigation water. Between the river receiving less snowmelt in the years to come due to prolonged drought, and increasing water demand due to population growth, the state is expected to experience annual shortfalls of between 230,000 and 740,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 — enough to cover the entirety of Denver with between two and seven feet of water.
Coloradans broadly disagree with further depleting their water resources. More than three in four voters feel it’s more important to keep water in streams and rivers to support wildlife populations, rather than divert it to cities to accommodate future population growth.
Their reservations are well-founded. In addition to damaging fragile ecosystems, overtaxing rivers and streams will make wildfires even worse. Only last winter, a record-setting fire destroyed 1,000 Boulder County homes within 24 hours. As population growth continues to push the suburbs further into currently rural areas and siphons water out of natural habitats, the scale and frequency of these damages will inevitably rise in the years to come.
Substantial majorities of Coloradans favor curbing population growth. Some 63% support restricting development to “make it more difficult for people to move to Colorado.” Just over half favor reducing immigration from abroad, which accounts for a quarter of Colorado’s population growth.
For decades, people have moved to Colorado for its stunning natural beauty. But paradoxically, that influx of new residents is harming the environment, destroying wildlife habitat, and making it harder for folks to access and enjoy nature. So it’s hardly surprising that Colorado voters want to check the state’s future growth — the only question is whether, and when, Colorado’s political leaders will respond to voters’ demands.
Leon Kolankiewicz, an environmental scientist and planner, is scientific director of NumbersUSA and vice-president of Scientists and Environmentalists for Population Stabilization.