Smart Growth practices and land use planning are vital to limiting the impacts of new development on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries within the watershed. The current requirements for new development, including stormwater management controls, while effective in minimizing onsite impacts, are not enough to limit its impacts on a regional or even a watershed scale.

The EPA report, "Protecting Water Resources with Higher-Density Development," points out that when accommodating the same number of homes, low-density-or sprawl-development impacts many more watersheds and results in higher total stormwater runoff than higher-density-compact, smart growth-development.

Smart growth is a term coined in the 1990s that essentially means concentrating new development and redeveloping in existing communities that already have infrastructure, or have planned for it, such as roads, schools and water and sewer.

Smart growth is sustainable growth and is characterized by compact, transit-oriented, bicycle-friendly land use, with neighborhood schools, walkable streets, mixed-use development and a wide range of housing choices. Through the efficient use of land, smart growth's purpose is to conserve valuable natural resources; create a sense of community and place through increased interaction between residents; expand transportation, employment and housing choices; distribute the costs and benefits of development in an equitable manner; and promote public health.

Smart growth is encouraged at the local level through land use, housing and transportation planning. It is implemented through zoning and subdivision regulations, which determine the amount, type and density of development. Innovative techniques include urban growth boundaries, the transfer of development rights programs, historic preservation efforts and transit-oriented development. Smart growth is further strengthened through state and federal investments to support transportation, water management and housing infrastructure.

As a method to protect the Chesapeake Bay, it's useful to consider smart growth as a pollution prevention strategy for the following reasons:

  • Smart growth limits additional nutrient impacts. The nutrient impacts on a per household basis are far less for new homes built on smaller lots and served by existing wastewater infrastructure than for those built on larger lots served by a septic tank. A household served by an Enhanced Nutrient Removal wastewater treatment plant-the latest technology for removing nitrogen from wastewater-and built on a quarter-acre lot generates approximately 4 pounds of nitrogen per year, while a household on septic and a 2-acre lot generates about 18 pounds.
  • Smart growth prevents the loss of forest and farmland. Unlike other areas of the country which have seen continued increases in forest since 1970, the Chesapeake Bay watershed has experienced the opposite trend. According to the Federal Bay Strategy, within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 100 acres of forest are converted to other uses each day. From 1997 to 2003, 100 acres of farmland were lost to development daily. A variety of ecosystem services are provided by forests and farmland, including carbon sequestration, pollution filtration, hydrologic control and wildlife habitat. Smart growth can limit the loss of these valuable lands and services by avoiding sprawl. In addition, green infrastructure plans- those that connect, expand and protect our most valuable natural lands-have a greater likelihood of success when traditional land protection methods are combined with smart growth and land use planning techniques.
  • Smart growth reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Per-household carbon dioxide emissions are less for homes that are located in towns and cities than those in suburbs and exurban areas. Smart growth provides for alternative transportation and reduced reliance on automobiles. Mixed-use development reduces the length of travel between homes, jobs and other destinations. Given the expected impacts of climate change on the Chesapeake Bay and its natural resources, we have a special obligation to reduce our climate footprint.

The Chesapeake region provides many economic opportunities and natural and cultural resources that will continue to attract population and businesses to the watershed. Between 1985 and 2005, the population of the Bay watershed grew by about 3 million, from 13.5 million to 16.6 million. By 2030, the population is projected to reach almost 20 million.

These projections, combined with development patterns in the watershed, demonstrate that much is at stake for the Chesapeake Bay. For example, to accommodate the approximately 1 million additional people expected to call Maryland home by 2030, the Maryland Department of Planning forecasts that more than 560,000 acres of land would be consumed (if current trends continue). If smart growth measures were implemented, only about a third of that land would need to be consumed.

The Chesapeake 2000 agreement includes many strong goals for land use planning and smart growth, although the Bay Barometer does not track the implementation of these goals at this time. The Federal Bay Strategy does acknowledge the importance of local government planning and the alignment of land use, transportation and housing plans to achieve smart growth, as well as the role the federal government can play in the successful implementation of local plans.

Within the Chesapeake watershed and throughout the nation, the new initiative among the EPA and the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation, called the Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, will coordinate federal housing, transportation and other infrastructure investments to protect the environment, promote equitable development and help address the challenges of climate change.

As part of the effort to provide "reasonable assurance" that the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load can be successfully achieved, the EPA expects Bay jurisdictions to "account for growth" in their Watershed Implementation Plans.

Smart growth and land use planning can limit the level of effort needed for identifying and implementing additional best management practices required to offset the pollution increase from new development. This makes economic sense regardless of who pays for the BMPs.

Smart Growth Resources