The Impact of Sprawl

The Bay's recovery and the health of our rivers and streams are increasingly threatened by a common pattern of development known as "sprawl." Sprawl converts large swath's of well-managed farms and forests—natural filters—into unconnected, spreadout, low-density residential subdivisions and commercial areas. These developments are often far from cities and town centers. As explained below, sprawling development is unsustainable and will make meeting the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint increasingly difficult at a time when state and local implemention plans require these very sources of pollution be reduced.

  • Transportation—By its very nature, sprawl increases the reliance on cars as the only means of transportation. The increase in commuting distances and traffic congestion result in more air pollution, which leads to more toxics in our waters.
  • Stormwater—The widespread proliferation of impervious surfaces such as new roads (necessary to link far-flung development), rooftops, and large parking lots (required for commercial land uses that are accessible only by automobile) leads to more polluted rainwater running into rivers, streams, and the Bay.
  • Septic Systems—Regulatory, engineering, and market factors prevent scattered development from being hooked up to utilities and high-performance water treatment systems. Sprawling development often relies on septic systems for management of wastewater, which can produce a high rate of nitrogen pollution.

Every year in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, tens of thousands of acres of natural land are converted into the kind of sprawling land uses described above. In the process, the farms, forests, and wetlands that are so important to both our functioning ecosystem and our local and state economies, are lost. Formerly acting as a "green filter," they become "gray funnels" with rainwater runoff eroding soil and channeling contaminants into local streams and the Bay.

Continued sprawl is no longer a future we can afford for our children or the Bay. CBF believes all of us have the responsibility to take action and demand better-informed and more sustainable patterns of development.

There are smarter ways to grow.

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