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Chesapeake Bay Watershed Population

In 2016, an estimated 18.1 million people lived in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: a 0.4 percent increase from 2015. Experts predict the watershed’s population will pass 20 million by 2030 and reach 21.1 million by 2040.

July 25, 2011

Our daily lives can dramatically impact the environment when we consume natural resources, alter the landscape to fit our needs and pollute our land, air and water. As the population in the Chesapeake Bay region continues to grow, so does our combined impact on the the Bay, its rivers and streams and the surrounding lands. Geographer Peter Claggett with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) discusses how he uses satellite imagery to study the effects of population growth on the local landscape and what we can do to lessen the impact of a growing population on the region’s natural resources.


Each person that lives in the Chesapeake Bay watershed affects the Bay ecosystem. We consume natural resources; we pollute the air, land and water; and we alter forests and wetlands to fit our needs. The health of our rivers and streams is directly tied to population growth, and the decline of the Bay is correlated with the rise in the number of people that live in its watershed.

Long-term trend (1950-2016)

Over the last six and a half decades, the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s population has increased 115 percent. In 1950, an estimated 8.4 million people lived in the watershed. By 2016, this number had jumped to 18.1 million.

Short-term trend (2006-2016)

Over the last decade, the watershed’s population has increased 8.5 percent, from 16.68 million to 18.1 million. This is lower than the 10.3 percent increase seen in the 2000s and the 11.6 percent increase seen in the 1990s.

Change from previous year (2015-2016)

In 2016, an estimated 18.1 million people lived in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: a 0.4 percent increase from 2015.

Additional Information

Variations in population growth

Although the watershed’s population continues to rise, growth varies from state to state and region to region. For instance, an estimated 70 percent of the watershed’s population lives in Maryland and Virginia (with 5.9 million people in Maryland and 6.8 million in Virginia). And while the population of the District of Columbia is expected to rise in the foreseeable future, some watershed states are predicting slow population declines through 2030.

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