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Population Growth


With its strong economy, diverse communities and rich natural and historic resources, it’s no wonder that just over 18 million people call the Chesapeake Bay watershed home. But the region’s rapid rate of population growth has raised concern over whether the watershed can continue to sustain the plants, animals and people that live here.

How is population growth a pressure on the Chesapeake Bay?

Each person that lives in this region affects the Chesapeake Bay: we consume natural resources; we pollute the air, land and water; and we alter the landscape to fit our needs. The health of our waterways, therefore, is directly tied to population growth.

When more people move into an area, more land is cleared for agriculture and development. More roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses can mean more impervious surfaces that block rainfall from soaking into the ground. This rainfall is pushed into storm drains, rivers and streams, picking up nutrients, sediment and other pollutants along the way. Polluted stormwater, also known as stormwater runoff, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Bay.

How has the watershed's population grown in recent years?

Since 1950, the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s human population has more than doubled. Between 1985 and 2016, this number increased 34 percent, from 13.5 million people to 18.1 million people. Experts believe this number will continue to rise, surpassing 20 million by 2030.

Population growth varies from state to state and region to region:

  • Almost 70 percent of the watershed’s population lives in Maryland and Virginia.
  • At least 30 percent of recent population growth in Delaware and Virginia has been due to domestic and international migration.
  • While the population of the District of Columbia is expected to rise in the foreseeable future, other watershed states are predicting slow and steady population declines through 2030.

Take Action

For Chesapeake Bay restoration to be a success, we all must do our part. Our everyday actions can have a big impact on the Bay. By making simple changes in our lives, each one of us can take part in restoring the Bay and its rivers for future generations to enjoy.

To lower the impacts of population growth in the Bay watershed, consider reducing stormwater runoff. Install a green roof or rain garden to capture and absorb rainfall; use porous surfaces like gravel or pavers in place of asphalt or concrete; and redirect home downspouts onto grass or gravel rather than paved driveways or sidewalks.



Chesapeake Bay News

In The Headlines

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Population

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.

Bay 101: Population Growth

February 11, 2015

Our daily lives can dramatically impact the environment when we consume natural resources, alter the landscape to fit our needs and pollute our land, air and water. As the population in the Chesapeake Bay region continues to grow, so does our combined impact on the the Bay, its rivers and streams and the surrounding lands. Geographer Peter Claggett with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) discusses how he uses satellite imagery to study the effects of population growth on the local landscape and what we can do to lessen the impact of a growing population on the region’s natural resources.


Population Growth and Development in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to the Year 2020-w/Summary

Publication date: December 01, 1988 | Type of document: Report | Download: Electronic Version

A major force in establishing the present land use pattern has been the desire of people to locate primary residences in low density settings and second homes near the water. Unfortunately, development in agricultural, forest, and shore…

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Bay FAQs

  • How many people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


Bay Terms

  • Agriculture
  • Impervious
  • Nutrients
  • Pollution
  • Sediment
  • Stormwater
  • Watershed


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