Report: Growth Hurting Restoration Efforts

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rapid development around the Chesapeake Bay's watershed is outrunning all attempts to corral it, making the task of restoring the bay's health harder by increasing pollution, according to a federal report.

The report was issued by the Office of the Inspector General at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in charge of the federal and state effort to restore the bay's water quality.

It found that the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program would not meet its goals for reducing damaging runoff from urban areas. The targets were set in 2000 and supposed to be achieved by 2010. But in some cases, the report found, the problems have worsened since then.

Sprawling growth is bad for the bay, scientists say, because man-made surfaces short-circuit natural systems for filtering and storing rainwater. Instead of soaking into the soil, storm water in urban areas washes off hard, paved surfaces and into streams and rivers.

The runoff carries dirt from the land downstream and ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. It can carry high levels of oil and grease from roads, as well, and pollutants such as pet waste and lawn fertilizer. The latter two can feed unnaturally large blooms of algae, which suck up the oxygen that fish and crabs need.

The EPA report found that across the watershed -- 64,000 miles from Cooperstown, N.Y., to Virginia -- the amount of land covered with impervious surfaces grew by 41 percent in the 1990s. In that period, it says, the watershed's population grew 8 percent.

The report recommends limiting growth and undertaking pollution-reduction measures in new and existing subdivisions, such as installing "rain gardens" that soak up water from a home's rainspouts or ponds that hold a subdivision's rainwater.

The report's conclusions were seconded yesterday by Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Washington-based Coalition for Smarter Growth. Schwartz said that compact urban centers are thriving in Arlington County, Alexandria and the District but that the region also has serious problems limiting sprawl.

"There is widespread recognition that, to save the bay, we have to use land more wisely," Schwartz said.

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