Report: Sprawl Compounds Water Crisis in Drought-stricken Cities

Report: Sprawl Compounds Water Crisis in Drought-stricken Cities

Smart Growth America

(Washington, DC) – Sprawl development is making the nation's drought even more painful by impairing the landscape's ability to recharge aquifers and surface waters, according to a new report released today by American Rivers, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Smart Growth America. Nationwide, paved-over land sends billions of gallons of water into streams and rivers as polluted runoff, rather than into the soil to replenish groundwater. This groundbreaking report, Paving Out Way to Water Shortages: How Sprawl Aggravates Drought, estimates the extent of this phenomenon in 18 rapidly growing cities. The authors urge communities to adopt "smart growth" policies to reign in sprawl and protect water supplies and watersheds into the future.

"Sprawl development is literally sending billions of gallons of badly needed water down the drain each year the storm drain," said Betsy Otto, senior director for watershed programs at American Rivers. "Sprawl hasn't caused this year's drought, but sprawl is making water supply problems worse in many cities."

The authors estimate that in Atlanta, the nation's most rapidly sprawling metropolitan area, recent sprawl development sends an additional 57 billion to 133 billion gallons of polluted runoff pour into streams and rivers each year. This water would have otherwise filtered through the soil to recharge aquifers and provide underground flows to rivers, streams and lakes. The report gives the first estimates of groundwater losses due to sprawl development in the 1980s and 1990s. A table of estimates for 18 of the nation's most land-consuming metro areas follows below.

The implication of this phenomenon is tremendous – but the actual impacts on the public's water use vary from city to city. On average, 40 percent of Americans get their water directly from underground sources across the country. Groundwater also supplies, on average, 50 percent of the water in the rivers and lakes that serve everyone else.

"Sprawl is hanging us out to dry. Smart growth is a way to ease our water crisis," Deron Lovaas, deputy director of the smart growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Sprawling land development – characterized by strip malls and highway-dependent residential, commercial, and office developments -- is gobbling up the American countryside at an alarming rate. Government figures suggest that 365 acres of forest, farmland, and other open space succumb to sprawl per hour. In most communities the amount of developed land is growing much faster than the population. The authors conclude that the link between sprawl and drought needs to be examined more closely.

Related Link:

For more information contact:

David Goldberg
Smart Growth America
1100 17th St.
DC 20036

Phone: 202-412-7930
Email: [email protected]

Posted August 28, 2002

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