When we peer into the future, do we picture a watershed where runoff from highways, homes, storm drains, and parking lots continues to flush toxic sediments into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay?
Or will our commitment to restore the Chesapeake, combined with ongoing technological advancements, allow us to imagine a different landscape, a different Bay?
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030 there will be 7 million residents in the state of Maryland. Maryland is poised to leapfrog from the 19th most populous state in the U.S. to 16th in rank.
By 2050, Maryland will be more densely populated than any nation in Europe, save Belgium and the Netherlands. Virginia will feel the squeeze too; its numbers are projected to swell to 9.8 million by 2030 — an increase of almost 39 percent.
More than 300 people move into the Chesapeake watershed every day and sustained population growth and development affect almost every aspect of our lives. New development puts pressure on the natural environment. Forested land diminishes. Streams receive heavier sediment loads. Wastewater enters the watershed, magnifying stressors to an estuary already severely overenriched by nutrients.
Climate variability and rising global temperatures also force changes in the watershed. These combined pressures could cause a sea level rise of 4-10 inches by 2030. In low-relief environments such as the Chesapeake, an increase of this magnitude would accelerate shoreline erosion, worsening periodic flooding and inundating tidal wetlands.
As the 21st century progresses, we can still make choices that will help to mitigate advancing trends. With sufficient political will, we can surpass the current objectives set by baywide agreements and implement more aggressive approaches that rely on innovative technologies.
Potomac Initiative (UMCES)
Chesapeake Bay Program