Growing Toward Chesapeake Future:
In 2030 Marylanders Will Number 7 Million, U.S. Census Projects
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau released last
week forecast that by 2030 there will 7 million residents in the state
of Maryland — an increase of nearly 33 percent since the year 2000 and
500,000 more people than anticipated by state planners. Such growth
would cause Maryland to leapfrog from the 19th most populous state in
the U.S. to 16th in rank. And by 2050, Maryland would 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.
Population growth beyond our expectations only heightens the
"urgency to do more than we had anticipated," says Carl Hershner, a
wetland scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. These
issues are familiar to Hershner, who is also the chair of the
Chesapeake Bay Program's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee
(STAC), which recently produced a forward-looking analysis entitled
Chesapeake Futures outlined a
vision for the Chesapeake watershed in 2030 according to three
different scenarios: 1) If recent trends continue, 2) If current
objectives are met, or 3) If feasible alternatives are put in place.
The report addressed issues of land use and development, forests,
agriculture, and the Chesapeake Bay and its fisheries in context of
choices between these three alternative scenarios, sketching out a
picture of what the watershed would look like under each.
But the new population projections released last week will "require aggressive management beyond what we envisioned with the
report," Hershner says. And with each year that the calendar creeps
towards 2030, an opportunity for progress toward the environmentally
sustainable future outlined in the report "slips past us," he says.
Take land use, for example. The
report projects that if recent trends continue, the area of developed
land in the watershed will increase by more than 60 percent by 2030,
resulting in the loss of more than two million acres of forests and
agricultural land. In addition, impervious land area will increase by
more than 25 percent in many sub-watersheds and recent progress in
reducing sediment loads to the Bay will reverse as soil disturbance
from the high rate of land development contributes new sources of
Overlay current estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau that Maryland
is growing even faster than state planners anticipated and we could be
looking at arriving at the 2030 predictions by 2025, says Donald
Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for
Environmental Science, and lead editor of the
report. This poses a challenge because the land development that
accompanies population growth is "essentially irreversible," says
Boesch. Growth patterns and land development heightens the need for
"more urgent attention," he says.
To some extent, these issues are receiving more attention. Land
development issues have been elevated in profile in local and national
debates recently, notes Boesch. Ideas about "smart-growth" that would
concentrate development near Metro stations, rather than sprawling into
less developed areas, are being proposed and debated for Tysons Corner,
Virginia and for Vienna, Virginia, for example. Low-impact development
measures (LID), such as ecosystem-friendly stormwater management have
also been proposed in this region in an attempt to keep runoff
contained on lawns and lots and out of local streams.
In the end, it is still possible for the Chesapeake watershed to achieve a sustainable scenario as envisioned by
according to Hershner. "But the slope now is steeper," he says. "We can
still get there but we can't do nothing and expect it to just happen."
- Erica Goldman
For more information about
Chesapeake Futures or to download the full report: