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.
While the decline in the health of the Chesapeake Bay is correlated with the rise in the watershed's population, urban and suburban development has a 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 took the place of forests, farms and other valuable lands and polluted rivers and streams. More recent trends suggest a potential and promising resurgence of growth in urban areas, which often already have the roads, sewer systems and other infrastructure to support a rising population without generating a rise in impervious surfaces, stormwater runoff or wastewater pollution.