With its strong economy, diverse communities and rich natural and historic resources, it’s no wonder that more than 18 million people call the Chesapeake Bay watershed home. But the region’s rapid rate of population growth has raised concern over whether the watershed can continue to sustain the plants, animals and people that live here.
How does population growth impact the Chesapeake Bay?
Each person that lives in this region affects the Chesapeake Bay: we consume natural resources; we pollute the air, land and water; and we alter the landscape to fit our needs. The health of our waterways, therefore, is directly tied to population growth.
When more people move into an area, more land is cleared for agriculture and development. More roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses can mean more impervious surfaces that block rainfall from soaking into the ground. This rainfall is pushed into storm drains, rivers and streams, picking up nutrients, sediment and other pollutants along the way. Polluted stormwater, also known as stormwater runoff, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Bay.
How has the region's population grown?
Since 1950, the Chesapeake Bay region’s human population has more than doubled. Between 1985 and 2016, this number increased 34 percent, from 13.5 million people to 18.1 million people. Experts believe this number will continue to rise, reaching 20 million by 2030.
Population growth varies from state to state and region to region:
- Almost 70 percent of the watershed’s population lives in Maryland and Virginia.
- At least 30 percent of recent population growth in Delaware and Virginia has been due to domestic and international migration.
- While the population of the District of Columbia is expected to rise in the foreseeable future, other watershed states are predicting slow and steady population declines through 2030.
For Chesapeake Bay restoration to be a success, we all must do our part. Our everyday actions can have a big impact on the Bay. By making simple changes in our lives, each one of us can take part in restoring the Bay and its rivers for future generations to enjoy.
To lower the impacts of population growth in the Bay watershed, consider reducing stormwater runoff. Install a green roof or rain garden to capture and absorb rainfall; use porous surfaces like gravel or pavers in place of asphalt or concrete; and redirect home downspouts onto grass or gravel rather than paved driveways or sidewalks.