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.
The decline in the health of the Chesapeake Bay is correlated with the rise in the watershed's population, and a recent survey of stewardship actions found many people are not doing everything they can to protect clean water and environmental health. For example, 15 percent of residents dispose of used cooking oil or grease down the drain, which can clog pipes and block wastewater from exiting their home’s plumbing. Thirty percent of residents use pesticides in and around their homes, 35 percent use herbicides to control weeds in their yards and 36 percent use fertilizers on their lawns. These chemicals can add toxics to the water and make animals sick. As the population rises, the impacts of these actions will grow.
Urban and suburban development has an even bigger and more serious impact on the environment than population growth. During the second half of the twentieth century, trends indicated a rise in the sprawling suburbs, large lots and big houses that replaced forests, farms and other valuable lands and led to an increase in polluted rivers and streams. More recent trends suggest a potential and promising resurgence of growth in urban areas, which often already have roads, sewer systems and other infrastructure to support a rising population without generating a rise in impervious surfaces, stormwater runoff or wastewater pollution.